David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Week Nine

November 2, 2012:  Inside the HEAD--Week Nine (day forty-four)

Amazingly, I have forgotten the rhythm of the classroom. 

As noted in a recent blog, I was pulled off the bench to lead a workshop on blogging at SMC as part of our Writer's Day event for four local high schools. Since we had more students coming than anticipated, the English department had to go looking for an additional teacher and went to the administrator.

And like a pinch hitter, I had a couple of pitches as shots of getting a hit, but suspect all I produced was a small dribbler.

I have always believed that the transition back to the classroom after being an administrator would be easy, but that is not the case. Here were the challenges:

1) I overprepared.  Given that I was supposed to take about 20 minutes or so to set up some kind of in-class writing, I developed a lengthy outline that even though it barely strayed past 20 minutes, also left no real opportunity to generate some back and forth discussion. It was, god forbid, a lecture.  (Scary leftover Halloween music appropriate.)

2) I struggled to know how to connect.  These were high schoolers, and I knew going in that I had few cultural references to fall back on as a way to keep a back and forth discussion going.  That left me little to no common ground to establish a dynamic environment.  Bless my lucky stars I knew who Perez Hilton was when I asked if anyone could name a famous blogger.

3) I didn't get the students talking right away.  This was a rookie mistake.  I was thrown by the 20 minutes to set something up scenario, and forgot that the first five to ten minutes should ideally be about drawing them out and seeing what they know.  Sigh!

4) My prompt sucked.  No better way to put it.  Since our goal was to have students do some writing in every workshop, we needed to have writing prompts.  When I hear what my colleagues did in the other sessions for prompts, I realize my "write a blog to your school population about your trip to SMC today" was not the best prompt.

5) I had no assessment measure!  #4 could have provided that, a prompt that I could collect and review to see if any of my points were learned.

6) Damn it, I may have just taken this too seriously.  I'm not sure every other workshop today had "points to be learned."  They may simply have been opportunities for these students to engage in specific kinds of writing purely for the fun.  I think I erred on the side of, gasp, being too academic.

So this is all fascinating to me now.  I felt defeated much of the day, as if 20+ students had left campuses saying to their friends, "be thankful you didn't go the blog dude's session.  What a snorer!"  However, upon reflection, I feel a little better.  The students were all incredibly polite, even the one who claimed he didn't "get it," and not one fell asleep.  I hear many loved touring the campus and the residence halls, so perhaps boring blog dude is the only blip in their day.  If I see any of them on campus in a year or two, I can avoid eye contact, turn around and walk swiftly in the other direction.


November 1, 2012:  Inside the HEAD--Week Nine (day forty-three)


In honor of All Saints' Day, a top 10 list of the Sainted on colleges and campuses:


10) St. Diversity Officer:  No position is more challenging than that of the diversity officer, who is charged with changing a campus culture and demographic, usually with no more clout than having a direct  phone line to the President's office.  St. Peter had an easier time with all those snakes.


9) St. Ombudsman:  Already burdened with the silliest title in the history of academia, and cringing at every "grab some buds" jokes made by fraternity brothers, St. Ombudsman fights for the little guy (or girl).  Anyone who has to mediate students, faculty and administrators deserves instant beatification, although to be truthful, the honor usually comes at the 10-year anniversary of working for the college/university.


8) St. P.R. person:  Frequently called St. Peter by people who don't enunciate well, St. P.R. person is more likely confused with Jude the Apostle, patron saint of lost causes.  You try being the person who has to clean up the Jerry Sandusky mess.  St. P.R. person usually has the shortest tenure of any academic saint.


7) St. Financial Aid Translator:  Derived from early Christian saints able to translate obscure Latin texts to modern romance languages, the St. F.A. Translator (as he or she is commonly known, although don't you dare call him or her St. F.A.T.) can bring tears of joys to the eyes of many parents staring at a FAFSA and wishing they had used birth control 17 years earlier.


6) St. Help Desk Coordinator:  Sainthood doesn't come easily to I.T. professionals whose good works so often go unnoticed, but for the headset-donning St. Help Desk Coordinator recognition does come, usually after about the fourth call in a row that requires him or her to respond, "is it plugged in?  Yes, I will wait."


5) St. Tenure Track Assistant Professor:  The only academic sainthood stripped away as often as it is bestowed, St. Tenure Track Assistant Professor always starts with the best intentions.  He or she is meeting with students well beyond classtime, revising journal articles at 3:00 a.m., and stroking the egos of all his or her fellow faculty.  Sainthood almost always lasts for about seven years until a higher honor, of being God, is bestowed on the full-time faculty member, or when tenure is denied and St. Tenure Track joins Satan's legions as fallen angels.


Well, I guess I lied.  Despite looking in every nook and cranny of every college and university, we have only found 6 academic saints.  Legend has it that the other four were never really true saints anyway, sort of like the New Orleans Saints, Jill St. John, and the Saint Bernard. 



October 31, 2012:  Inside the HEAD--Week Nine (day forty-two)

In honor of Halloween, top 10 scariest higher-education associated costumes:

10) Dirty Old Full Professor -- characterized by leer towards co-eds, baggy pants, couch in office, and string of ex-wives who have all been his students.  Often confused with Donald Sutherland character in Animal House.

9) Goth Chick Art Student -- dressed all in black, carrying portfolio twice her size, sporting heavy makeup, and having more body piercings than you can count.  Often confused with Winona Ryder character in Beetlejuice.

8) Cranky Old Full Professor -- characterized by classroom door closed and locked moment class starts.  Notches on desk chair represent number of students failed.  Often confused with John Housman character in The Paper Chase.

7) Meeting-obsessed Administrator--characterized by laptop or I-Pad under arm, piles of agendas in arms, and licking of fingers prior to handing out agendas. 

6)  Disheveled overworked adjunct faculty member -- Seen running from car to class to car to get to another college, chased by Dean's administrative assistant demanding necessary paperwork.  Characterized by frumpy clothes and battered briefcase.

5) Ghost student -- Often unseen figure that shows up on class lists but never seems to attend classes. 

4) Science Lab Skeleton -- Usually seen being carried by self-proclaimed class clown who thinks he has the anatomy and physiology department in stitches.

3) Skittish IT support guy -- Often confused for a vampire because of the rarity of seeing the light of day.  Characterized by greasy hair and hesitant speech patterns.

2) Student lifer -- Characterized by face everyone recognizes. Can be seen in yearbooks and newspaper articles going back a decade.  Hangs out entirely in the theater department.

1) All Ego and Arrogance Guy -- Basically everyone else who doesn't fit into the first 9 categories.  Named most frightening villian ever by editors of Tales From The Crypt.


October 30, 2012:  Inside the HEAD--Week Nine (day forty-one)

One of the first poems I ever wrote was called "Blank Page."  I was probably fourteen or fifteen.  Gad, it had its awful elements, the pimply, socially insecure teenager wondering how he had come to a point when he had nothing to say to the non-existent girlfriend of his life.

I bring this up only because I have some fond memories of the poem for the reason that sometimes we all do stare at blank pages, unsure of what to write. It seems a dark and ugly confessional to admit that there are days that my mind seems a blank page to all the stimuli it receives, which is a nicer way to say somedays I feel completely unproductive.

This feeling can trickle into the blog, "where I thought I could always write/but this blank page just isn't right."

I have been staring at the empty space of this blog all night trying to find something to say.  Thoughts flicker below the surface but nothing really grabs me.

I don't want to submit a blank page for you.  Maybe I should just show blips on the map that was part of my day and let others fill in the dots:

The mighty big barometer/thermometer I saw in the science lab today, leading me to crack, so to speak, about the nasty rectal exam that must be used for.

The ever-present whiner on the college's Facebook page lamenting something along the lines of "the instructors at SMC this year don't seem to care," when he has two classes this semester.  I won't even begin to tear at whether his observation about the two of them caring is accurate.

Finally getting the one piece of information we had asked someone for over a week ago. It wasn't a complicated question.  It was a request for a single midterm grade.

Hearing that in order to make their completion rates look better, some PhD programs are no longer granting anyone extensions for their dissertation, thus ignoring that it is their own processes, or lack thereof, that often lead PhD students to interminable amounts of time to complete.

Maybe I could add another stanza to "Blank Page":

"I leave you to fill in the dots/of all my arbitrary thoughts,/a feeble attempt to engage/the agonies of my blank page."


October 29, 2012:  Inside the HEAD--Week Nine (day forty)

I like books.  I like lists.  I even like the well-crafted booklist.

Then there is the booklist maintained by college and university bookstores.  Shudder. 

I reviewed SMC's booklist today as the bookstore manager asked faculty to give it a final review for textbooks associated with classes starting in January.  It is the same booklist that we will link to online to allow students to determine what books they need for their classes.

I just can't decide who is more punished to read it: the faculty or the students.  I looked at it today more as a casual observer to determine how I could help make it better.  I'm not sure how to make it better, but I am reminded of the inanities of college textbooks.  Hence my booklist:

1)  The redundancy department:  It is 92 pages long, so much of which is redundant:  many classes have "no text" listed (an internship for instance, many of the applied music classes, and so forth).  In addition, SMC strictly believes in a philosophy where all sections of a course, regardless of faculty, use the same books.  So, why do we have to list every section of 100 level core classes? And why are we surprised when a faculty occasionally forgets that he or she can't make changes to his or her individual class.

2)  There's still no accounting for accounting.  The main textbook is $298 (the accounting textbook is almost always the poster child for ridiculous costs).  Then throw in a workbook and another textbook and the total cost is $431.  Granted these books can be used for the next level of accounting, also, but still.  The biggest part of the crime:  that main accounting textbook is in its 24th, yes, you read that correctly, 24th edition.    I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing that is an edition a year.  What a racket for its author (who remains nameless for the purity of this blog. I wouldn't want to defile it with naming names.)

3) Real "books" still rule. One can basically take the entire English curriculum offered next semester for less than that accounting class.  $369 totals for the six different English courses (writing and literature) offered in January.  I'm pretty sure Frankenstein, Everything's An Argument, and a writer's handbook are each more interesting than that $298 accounting tome.

4)  Ethics at a bargain.  Did you know that if you take our Ethics class you can read Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life.  I think that sounds like a bargain at $161. 

5) Would a condensed version have sociopathic nurses?  A psychosocial nursing class offers a wonderful bookend of textbooks:  Communication for Nurses at one end, and The Sociopath Next Door at the other end.  Of course, with my luck I would get the ISBN numbers wrong and end up with Communication for Sociopaths and Nurses Next Door.

6) At least it could be the plural "dice?" Our precision machining technology is a program that, I admit, I may not understand well.  Perhaps, I should.  Basic Diemaking costs only $226.  Give me a break, there's a six-sided die, an eight-sided die, a ten-sided die, a twenty-sided die (my geeky role-playing game childhood is rearing its ugly head, isn't it?).  What's the big freaking deal with $226 worth of content?

7)  You can "C" better with those thick glasses, twerp.  I suppose the only people who really get my twenty-sided die reference are the students signed up for our Advanced C Programming class with its truth in advertising title, Objective C Programming:  the Big Nerd Ranch Grid.

I am clearly in the wrong business.  I should be writing textbooks, or at least buying them back.  Each of these would cost me about $10 if I bought them after students used them.  As I think about it, I had a lot of gall making fun of accountants back at the beginning of this blog.  There is a reason they run the world and English majors sell pizzas.