school


Upon arriving to campus this morning, while scouring the lot for a place to park, I realize I left my flash drive and school keys at home on the couch.  My flash drive contains all of my lecture notes, research, presentations, everything I need for class.  It’s a 30 minute drive home and class starts in 10 minutes.  There’s no way I can go back now.  First up on the day’s agenda is Mythology. We’re supposed to talk about Maori mythology for the first part of class, then we’ll begin a film.

—Except that now, I don’t have any of the notes I need for the first 30 minutes of class.  I’m screwed.

Ok, no worries. I’ll just start the film immediately rather than lecturing first. The movie’s too long to watch in a single class period anyway, so we’ll postpone the lecture and talk about the myths on Thursday after we finish the movie early. Cool. Disaster averted.

—Except that I have a Philosophy exam to give after that at 1:00pm and the exam is written on my flash drive. I don’t have time to drive home and get it and get back for class.  I can’t write a new exam in the 30 minute break between classes.  I’m so screwed.

I know! I’ll have The Man get on his computer, use my flash drive, and email me the exam file. That way he doesn’t have to drive all the way to campus, I get my exam, and everything’s fine. Awesome!  I am a problem solving machine!!

—Except that I now realize, I grabbed the wrong movie to show my 11am class. We’re talking about Maori mythology (Polynesian islands) and I grabbed The Secret of Kells, which IS a film we’ll watch in class but not for another 3 weeks.  And, since we are smack in the middle of our Far Eastern readings, I can’t exactly screen Kells early; it would make absolutely no sense.  I’m seriously screwed.

Ok, no worries.  We won’t watch the movie today. I’ll just talk about the Maori myths and set up the film for Thursday’s class.

—Except I don’t have my flash drive so I don’t have any of my lecture notes and I didn’t read through the myths before class since I planned on watching a movie and printing off my lecture notes. In fact, I haven’t read these myths since last summer, the last time I taught this class. I now have literally 2 minutes before class begins, so I don’t have time to call The Man and talk him through the process of finding the document that contains my lecture notes. I am SO SERIOUSLY screwed.

Ok, no worries?  I guess I’m making up a lecture about Maori mythology completely on the fly, with 30 seconds to figure out what the hell to do.  Here I go. 

———-

I managed to string together some ideas about the myths for about an hour before I let my class go early.  Afterward, The Man helpfully emailed my Philosophy exam, which I have printed and ready for my next class.  Plus, I now have Starbucks and pumpkin bread in front of me.  Hopefully this means the rest of the day will go more smoothly.

I SO SERIOUSLY need spring break.

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Dear readers, I’ve begun to notice a serious condition that is plaguing students all across our fine state.  It is a rampant, growing epidemic that is so invasive, it threatens to reach into your school and take possession of your children.  It seems that many college students, who are engaged in their class discussions and lectures, are suddenly and without warning disappearing.

Yes, it’s true.  Students all over the state are vanishing before our educator’s very eyes.  One minute, they are there, sitting attentively, taking notes and engaging the instructor in meaningful conversation. The next, they are gone.  It’s as if they evaporated into thin air, leaving no trace of their former presence.  Or so one would think.  Just when you grow comfortable in their absence, they abruptly re-appear, frightening their fellow classmates and instructors with a random question, comment, or concern.  It’s as if their spirit remained in the room, observing all the goings on yet their bodies choose to remain unseen by the rest of the class.  It is a terribly frightening and chilling phenomenon; one that requires all caution to avoid.

Ok, maybe students aren’t actually disappearing in class.  But that scenario seems to make more sense than the reality of what goes on with some students in some classes.  How else am I to explain when students fall asleep, watch You Tube videos on their laptops, text, doodle, or complete homework for other classes, all during class time and in plain view.  It’s a phenomenon I’ve referred to as the “invisibility effect.”  Something happens when a student sits at a desk and faces the front of a classroom – they forget that just as they can see their professor, so can their professor see them.

Maybe this is the result of too much television or the fault of online chatting, where people do remain unseen by their digital audiences.  But this is real life now; the instructor you’re looking at isn’t digital.  You are visible.  Recognize.  I see those cell phones hidden under textbooks and table tops.  I know you’re not taking notes on your laptop when your face reveals muffled laughter and you elbow your neighbor, pointing at your computer screen so they might share in your glee.  Pull your hat down over your eyes all you want; just because you can’t see me, I can still see you, sleeping peacefully in the back row, head leaning back against the wall.  And ma’am, I understand that bras aren’t always the most comfortable of clothing.  However, if you would be so kind, please refrain from grabbing the tops of your cups and vigorously hoisting them upward during my lectures. It’s distracting, at the least. At most, it’s going to cause some chafing, and that’s not good for anyone.

So students, a word to the wise.  Remember that game your parents played with you as a baby?  Peek-a-boo?  Well, consider that your first and possibly earliest life’s lesson.  I. See. You.

You know how your favorite TV shows end each season on a cliffhanger?  Like “Game of Thrones” or “True Blood,” they make you wait months and months to find out what happened to characters for whom you’ve invested your time, energy, and attention.  Will Lafayette be freed from Antonia?  Can Sookie finally make up her mind about Eric/Bill?  Who are the White Walkers?  And will winter ever arrive in Winterfell?!  By the time you get around to the new season, so much time has passed that you’re a little lost trying to remember precisely what was going on when last you saw them.

To that end, I offer you a quick summary of events in the life of super shiksa, since last we spoke:

I started teaching at another university, bringing my total number of jobs to three.

I got engaged,

planned an out of state wedding,

went back to school,

bought a new car,

got married over fall break,

 

honeymooned in New England,

combined households and fur kids,

  

and did it all in time to celebrate three Thanksgivings,

and four Christmases.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Remember Juno? Not the movie about a pregnant teenager. I’m talking about the mid-90’s email phenomenon, wherein a user would periodically dial-up their inboxes on a FREE account and check their non-attachment bearing, no-bigger-than-35-kilobyte messages. Juno was the first chance many average American families had to access the wonders of email in their own homes. As long as you had a computer and a telephone line, you had email. Uh-mazing.

The funny thing is, I don’t recall anyone questioning whether email was actually something we wanted. I just remember wanting it, needing it,  knowing we couldn’t afford AOL, agonizing that all my friends were visiting new places called “chat rooms” and doing exciting things like “IMing”. I knew getting to talk to nameless strangers at all hours of the day and night was something only the lucky (and wealthy) few could enjoy. But email? FREE email?! I could do that.

Oh, youth.

I’d give almost anything to eradicate the need for email in my life. There are few things more frustrating than cleaning out one’s inbox, only to have it stuffed with scores of new messages, most of which are pure garbage, in a matter of a few hours. My fragile, neatnick, and hyper-organized psyche doesn’t do well with that sort of thing. Bad enough I can never seem to keep my house or my office as clutter free as I’d like.  I can forgive myself this mess (to a degree) given how stupid busy I am most days. But, in an environment where all I have to do is push “delete” to make the offending debris magically disappear, I allow myself no excuse.

Then, there’s the expectation that we all sit around waiting for new messages to appear, that our lives are somehow as empty as our mailboxes and we have nothing else to do but immediately respond to any mundane correspondence that comes our way. Not to mention the fact that it’s often more efficient to “shoot off an email” asking for answers rather than to go looking for whatever information it is we need.  This means, a large part of my day goes something like this:

What homework is due?

– It’s in the syllabus.

How long should our chapter responses be?

– It’s IN the syllabus.

I wasn’t aware we had an attendance policy…

– IT’S IN…THE…SYLLABUS!! Please, for the love of all that is holy, stop emailing me for obvious shit and then emailing again, wondering why I haven’t responded to your previous email, when the information was easily available to you this entire time and it’s only been 1 hour since your first email! >*&*%!(@!I@(!*#&!*%!!!!!

So in closing, email, that promise of tomorrow, blesses our todays with clutter, impatience, and sloth. Thanks for that.



My last few entries have got me thinking about certain kinds of knowledge that I assume the average person possesses. I expect a certain level of sense, some basic problem solving skills and maybe a dose of foresight.  It’s not much, really. Now I know, I wait tables, so I have plenty of reasons to disprove my “the average person is competent” theory. But somehow the wealth of inductive evidence fails to preclude my hoping and expecting.

Even in the university I find, more often than not, that the average student is lacking a basic competence for one upon whom a degree has been conferred. (I would venture to guess that many of my students don’t even know what conferred means.) But maybe that’s not entirely their fault. Since becoming a college professor, I often have conversations with students who are dismayed to discover that college courses bear little to no relationship with their high school equivalents. From a student’s perspective, it’s frustrating to realize that the first thing you must learn in any college course is to dump whatever study methods may have served you in the past and quickly pick up some new ones. (Names and dates won’t cut it in college literature classes. Motifs, themes, unanswerable questions…these are the things that matter now.) From a professorial standpoint, it’s frustrating to discover just how much high school graduates don’t already know. (The basic spelling and grammatical errors I encounter on a regular basis are appalling, never mind the historical ignorance.)

The same gap exists, I think, between college and “the real world.” So often college does not prepare you for the actual lived experience of acquiring a job, paying rent, buying groceries, finding health care, navigating relationships, raising children, etc.  Sure, you can write a killer essay in one night but will your landlord care about that come the 1st of the month? Will your senior paper discussing increasing urbanization and the conflicts of public space, parks, and playgrounds empower you to be some sort of expert parent?  Probably not.

This is not to say that I think writing papers at 3am whilst consuming large quantities of coffee and breakfast cakes is unimportant. I wouldn’t be a college professor if I did. In the immortal words of one Sam Seaborn, “Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything.” And he’s right. He’s also right that education is in desperate need of “gigantic, revolutionary changes” because I can tell you, what we’ve got simply isn’t good enough.

Maybe what would help is some kind of preparedness class, required prior to graduation and in addition to one’s major, that would give students the fundamental tools to function in whatever stage of life comes next. High school to college, college to grad school (if applicable), grad school to “adulthood”, and so on. Schools might even offer a variety of courses from which the student could select, given their particular career and family choices, for instance:

  • “Study Skills vs. Study Hall”
  • “College Life and Sobriety”
  • “Jobs I: Acquiring Employment”
  • “Jobs II: Maintaining Employment”
  • “Deciphering the Graduate Program Application and Process”
  • “FAFSA, FICA, and other Important Acronyms”
  • “Managing Financial Obligations: Beyond the Beer Run”
  • “Changing Your Oil and other Vehicle Maintenance”
  • “Home Repair Matters”
  • “Special Topics: Cohabitation, Compromise, and Commitment”
  • “Introductory Parenting: Diapers and Desonate”

It might help. It might not. As one blue-collared individual got famous for observing, “Sometimes, you just can’t fix stupid.”

The following is an actual conversation I had with one of my students:

Student: I need to change the topic of my project.

Me: Why?

S: My niece is coming home from ICU and we need to get the house ready so I won’t have as much time as I thought to work on my project. It’s the first time she’s been home since she was born in February.

M: Well, I can understand that. Congratulations, by the way.

S: Oh, I don’t care about her. I hate babies.

M: (stunned silence)

M: (more stunned silence)

M: (completely incapable of generating any kind of response)

S: Uh…I mean, I bought her some books. Hopefully that means she’ll have a brain in her head. Unlike most people.

Irony much?

Another semester, another finals week limps to its death. As if exams, late work, and upwardly mobile deadlines weren’t enough to slough through, the curriculum at my community college requires its students to craft a researched, argument essay as the final assignment.  Adding insult to injury is the fact that their topic must be of “global importance”.  Typically, the freshman perspective on topics like gay rights or abortion trigger my snark response. The following excerpt, however, utterly floored me:

“Pro-Life advocates believe in personal responsibility and self control. The mother should only have protected sex. If she was not raped or taken advantage of by a male relative then it is the girl’s fault. Even if she was a victim of rape or incest, with the proper medical help she can get the sperm extracted from her body and would prevent unwanted pregnancy. It is the female’s responsibility that her sex partner uses protection every time. Or she can go the safe route and not have sex until marriage.”

That’s right, ladies. It’s YOUR job to make sure he wraps it up.  And if you forget? Well, doctors have new-fangled sperm extractors with testosterone seeking drones that will locate and safely escort each and every one of the approximately 100 million swimmers now circulating your fallopian tubes.

And in case you’re wondering, no. The student did not cite his sources.

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