Rewarding, But Challenging

Last paper graded, and mid-semester grades in, a solid 51 minutes before the deadline. Go, me. What I really want to do is thank the student whose paper I happened to read last, because it was a truly lovely piece, and instead of critique, I got to write suggestions about how she might develop it further, should she decide to go on with upper-level or graduate classes in lit.

That’s a rare treat, when you’re teaching a 100-level class, where so often, your students are trying to manage challenges with basic English while also learning essay structure, struggling to understand the readings (often in archaic or academic prose), and figuring out how to convey their arguments clearly. Reading their papers and trying to decide what is the next best thing to ask them to work on can be challenging. Rewarding, but challenging.

This was a lovely, relaxed way to end the night. 🙂

Breaks Can Be Productive

Jeez, grading papers is somehow even harder than usual. I generally make a big stack, put it in sets of 4, and then give myself a break between every 4 papers. Today, I want a break after every paper. Which will make grading spread over three days instead of one.

Nose, meet grindstone. C’mon, there’s got to be some discipline around here somewhere…

(On the plus side, this autumn lady mask came out just as beautifully as I thought it would. Love this pattern by Cecilia Mok! https://www.spoonflower.com/…/6744127-autumn-woods-by…

Breaks can be productive…)

The Discussion Continues to Rage

The discussion continues to rage in parent forums about whether we should be going back for in-person schooling. Apparently, many suburbs near us are back to hybrid already. If it’s true that Oak Park is staying remote longer than other districts, it’s interesting to me WHY that is.

– one odd thing about Oak Park is that it has a higher percentage of people with secondary degrees per capita than any other town in America — I wouldn’t be surprised if people here are generally more educated and more aware about COVID and its risks than the general public; Oak Park also historically has a LOT of citizen involvement with local government, for better or worse, so in theory, that could lead to more science-based decision-making.

(I know there are some pediatricians and other science folks advocating for our going back to school, but I also know lots of pediatricians and science folks who think it’s too early. I’d like to put them in a room and have them argue it out. My own husband and I disagree on risk assessment here; he’s more risk-averse and conservative than I am re: health issues.)

– another factor is that we border Chicago, and many of our residents work in the city, often in low-income areas that are hard hit by COVID, so we have to pay a lot of attention to transmission rates outside Oak Park itself, which is not true for many suburbs

– and a third is that we have a historic commitment to mixed income housing (50% of Oak Parkers live in multi-unit housing, which is certainly not typical for most suburbs) and a commitment to desgregation (which I suspect leads to more kids in public schools than a lot of other suburban areas, and more crowding in lunchrooms, hallways, etc.)

I’m not saying that we’re necessarily right to stay remote and those suburbs are wrong — their circumstances may be different enough that they can go back safely sooner than we can, especially if they have a nice financial cushion that they can immediately spend down for improving HVAC, getting in decent PPE, hiring more aides and subsidizing orgs like Hepzibah, etc.

But I think we need to be careful not to just look at other suburbs and say, “They’re going back, so we should too.” The literal numbers of kids in classrooms matters a lot. How you manage hallways matters a lot. The fine-grained specifics of all of this are going to be key.

I do think our schools should do more to combat mental health / socialization concerns, and I hope that’s in their plans. I gather they’re already doing small in-person cohorts for the severely developmentally disabled kids, who need one-to-one support? I’d like to see that expanded in coming months, if possible.

One question I have is whether it would be possible to simply have parents petition for their kids to go back in-person, rather than trying to impose a one-size-fits-all hybrid approach on the entire district. I’m super-curious how many parents would ask for that — we wouldn’t.

Our 8th grader and 5th grader will be staying remote until the end of winter trimester for sure, even if we’d have to pull them out of school to do it. If that’s true of 80% of families, then maybe the 20% who want to be in-person for winter trimester *could* be safely accommodated with current resources.

I haven’t seen the parent survey results, but more importantly, I don’t think the question has been phrased that way. If I were advocating on this issue, that’s the critical question I’d be pushing for.

Almost Ready

Spent three hours (!) yesterday recording another podcast episode with my co-host Benjamin Rosenbaum and perennial guest Jed Hartman. We’re getting ready to launch a Kickstarter VERY SHORTLY — I think on the 15th, if I can get everything together in time. It’s exciting! Also a bit nerve-wracking.

We’ve recorded a full season, at least, over the summer and fall, and while there’s still editing to do, it’s coming along nicely. If you can like / share / comment on the Kickstarer when I post about it, that would be very much appreciated. This is part of the SLF’s Portolan Project, so the SLF has been covering the video / audio editing costs so far, but we really need to actually raise the funds to cover it now.

It would’ve been nice to do that in advance, but it’s hard to ask people to support art projects without showing them what it’ll actually look like. I suppose that’s true of a lot of business, that you have to go a little into the red when you’re starting up. Makes me anxious, though — I’d love to get us back into black quickly!

Maybe I Could Sit Here a Little Longer

Made my way to the porch this morning; I’m listening to a gardening podcast and trying to wake up. It’s supposed to start raining in a few hours, and the air feels rich and moist. I kind of want to dig up some more irises and divide them — if I can get mine replanted quickly, the rain will take care of watering them for me. My wrist is definitely better after a few days in a brace and trying to rest it, but it’s not all the way there yet. Can I dig irises with just my right hand? Seems a little dubious, but maybe.

I’m honestly a little overwhelmed with just how much computer work I have right now, mostly teaching / grading. Sometimes it feels like I can’t possibly get it all done in the time I have. But I think that’s my brain lying to me — if I just start, I’ll get through it all quicker than I think I will. Maybe. I could just sit here and listen to my podcast and stare at the window box a little longer instead…

Kind of Fun

In my post-colonial lit. class, I assign one of my own stories among the other readings in the first week, mostly so they can get to know me a little better, but it’s also pretty relevant to the course material and helps set them up for what’s to come.

It’s always sort of interesting when a few of them decide to write papers on their professor’s story (seems like a brave choice to me!), and every once in a while, they actually come up with an argument that surprises me:

Draft thesis: In “Oceans Bright and Wide” by Mary Anne Mohanraj, we see the lives of women being controlled by the men in society. The women in society represent the lives of the colonized while the men represent the colonizers controlling society.

I mean, I don’t *think* that’s what I was doing when I wrote that story? But I can see where they’re coming from, and they should be able to find sufficient evidence to make the argument, I think, for a 100-level class. Kind of fun. 🙂

Check Your E-mail, Kids

Most of my students are keeping up really well with the asynchronous teaching, but I have 4 students who participated the first 2 weeks but then stopped turning things in.

I sent them queries last week, no response. I sent much firmer queries today, in the vein of: ‘You are failing right now, please let me know what your plans are for either catching up or withdrawing from the course.’ And one of them wrote back immediately! And he wants to catch up! So we’re going to meet on Zoom tomorrow and see what we can do, make a plan for getting him through.

Yes, I feel a little like that parable about the lost sheep right now. It’s so nice to get one back that you thought was gone forever.

Holding out for the other 3…check your e-mail, kids.

Not Much Joy in That

I’m hitting a point where I just don’t want to work anymore. Grading, in particular, is more awful than it ever was, and it was never good.

I think it’s 6+ months of pandemic, aggravated by going back to teaching but not getting to be in the classroom. The work of teaching tilts much more heavily towards drudgery when I don’t get to see their smiling faces and enjoy the back-and-forth of quick classroom conversation, seeing those lightbulb moments when they make a connection and understand something they didn’t before.

I actually think my students are learning as much, possibly even more, with the discussion board conversations, but it’s much less fun for me.

I’m sure there are things I could do to inject more fun into it, but it’s a tricky balance to not make unnecessary work for the students, many of whom are also having a hard time right now. Mostly, I keep thinking of that saying, “walk lightly on thin ice.” That’s what it feels like right now, teaching. I’m on thin ice, so are the students, let’s do what we have to, to get through the semester with our learning goals fulfilled.

Not a lot of joy in that, though.

No Easy Answers

Very sad, and I’m really feeling for the parents who have sent their kids back, and are worrying even more now. This kid had a hidden disease that was triggered by catching Covid — none of us can know if our kids might have a similarly rare hidden condition.

[Editing to note — I misunderstood what the writer was trying to say — the kid didn’t have a hidden disease. The condition that killed him was a rare complication of Covid and other viral illnesses. But I think the basic point still stands — none of us can predict which of our kids might have that rare reaction.]

No easy answers here; I see my 8th grader struggling to keep motivated with her classes without the energy of her classmates and teachers to boost her. I know it’s super-hard for some students to learn remotely.

I admit, at this point, I don’t know what the right point is to reopen colleges and universities, or when I’d be comfortable sending my own kids to in-person classes. (We’re still 5 years away from needing to answer that.) There have always been students catching contagious diseases on campus, some of them fatal; I’m not saying we should hold out for complete safety.

But I think one thing is clear; I’d feel a lot happier about it if my kid were vaccinated before going back. Given that vaccines should be arriving soon, I think I’d opt for remote for this academic year entirely.

For UIC’s spring semester, the entire English department is planning to still be remote, and my own classes will be remote and asynchronous. It’s not ideal, but I think it’s the right choice for now.

Nineteen-year-old North Carolina university student in “tremendous shape” dies from COVID-19

On Monday, a 19-year-old college student at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, died from neurological complications after contracting COVID-19. Chad Dorrill, described as being in “tremendous shape” by his uncle, contracted the virus after his return to Boone for fall classes. After developing flu-like symptoms, Dorrill returned home, where he tested positive on September 7.

History Through Food

For anyone teaching post-colonial lit., Gastropod has two recent podcast episodes (both 45 minutes, I think) that I’d recommend, which you might want to share with your students (would be appropriate for high school as well as college, probably younger too):

“Moo-Dunnit: How Beef Replaced Bison on the American Plains — and Plate” (9/15/20)

“This Spud’s For You” (9/29).

Gentle entry into colonization history through food.