Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Prepping For the New Semester as Grad Students

The other day I wrote about what I do to prep for the new semester as a teacher. It occurred to me this morning that it's also important to talk about what I'm doing to prep as a graduate student. 

Although I am officially finished with coursework, and comp in February, I am taking two courses this semester. One is an Old English Seminar, because I'm using Old English as my language requirement and because the topic is Anglo-Saxon Evil which is perfect for the beginning of my dissertation. The other is 17th Century English Literature, because one of my committee members is teaching it and the topic will only help me.
One of the habits I got into at Bread Loaf was to complete all my reading before the class began. As everyone knows, I'm a fan of color coding, a medieval classes are pink, so this class is pink. The first thing I do before I start a book is to crack the spine (which not all books handle well) and Post-It flag the chapters as appropriate. I then use a highlighter and pen (pink in this case, again) to highlight and take notes. Additional (different) Post-It flags go in for sections of the book that would be helpful for my dissertation. I also take general notes (on the legal pad) about possible paper topics. In this case, I plan on using this class to expand the opening of CH 1 and 2 of my dissertation, which starts with Old English narratives of the devil.
I have a single notebook for both classes with color coded paper in it (pink and orange for early modern). The early modern/17th century class doesn't have a lot of reading (so far Jonson which I read for comps, Cavendish, Donne, and Milton) so I'm leaving that reading for after the OE. For this class, I've spoken to the professor about writing my conference proposal for submission for MTSU's Milton Conference in October and then developing that conference paper into CH 3 (or is it 4 now?) which focuses on Milton's use of the folkloric devil in Paradise Lost.
Yesterday @raulpacheco wrote a great post about how to self-care for ourselves as academics. Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega is a great online role model, always sharing his thoughts, and responsible for starting #ScholarSunday (which you should all participate in!) He posted a list of five things that he planned on doing this semester to make sure he was taking better care of himself. I think that now is a great time to reflect on this and set your own rules/guidelines. I think it's easier to stick to things if you decide them before the semester starts and you get buried.
I wrote over break that I was not as happy as I could be with my #DevilDiss progress over break. But I need to cut myself some slack. To that end, I took Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega's list and made my own:
  • No work related emails late evenings or weekends.
  • No committments that don't forward my career (i.e get me to a finished diss).
  • Holidays/weekends are for me and Nehi.
I have a hard time "turning off" at night, or on weekends. That email ping goes off and I feel obligated to read it, then fume about it, then answer it. It got so bad this past semester that I turned off notifications on my phone. I read on Twitter a couple of weeks ago that one professor actually deleted her mail server from her phone over break to avoid the temptation/aggravation. I do not plan on turning those notifications back on, and plan on closing the tab once I leave my home office for the day.

Inspired by the idea of setting boundaries, I wrote my three on a bright orange Post-It, right above my desk, in my eye line as a reminder. I've also updated my #DevilDiss Timeline chart and put that up near my desk so I can use it as a reminder. It charts my current conference commitments and deadlines for chapters to committee members. For me the hardest thing will be to say NO to things the next year. I need to make sure I clear the decks for finishing and revising the dissertation, then prepping job market materials in the fall, so no new commitments. No fall conferences, no chapters in edited collections, nothing.

Right now I have three chapters in edited collections out- one needs revision (which I'll do as soon as I get notes back and finish by the end of January) and two are out to editors and out of my hands. I have two articles out, so nothing to do there. I have two conference papers this semester (both chapters of my dissertation) that I'll send out once I've transitioned from conference paper to article.

Other than that though, it's all dissertation, all the time. Setting this now lets me off the hook for the next year. I don't have to feel guilty about saying no. It lets me focus on the dissertation and getting it done. I feel good about doing this because I've busted my ass the last eighteen months since starting my program. I have one published article, one published co-authored chapter in an edited collection. If the things I have out also get published in the next eighteen months I'll have three chapters and two articles in addition to my two other publications.  I've regularly presented at conferences, usually at 2-3 per year, so I feel good about that. I regularly write book reviews so that section of my CV looks good as well. My service section is light, but I hear that's not unusual for grad students. So I feel okay about turning away this semester from everything not #DevilDiss.
My go to organizational tool is my weekly schedule- it has everything scheduled (even when grocery shopping and laundry gets done). I don't have classes Monday or Friday, so both days are set aside as #DevilDiss writing days. I teach T/TH and have office hours those days, and 17th Century class Tuesday nights, so Tuesday will be busy. Wednesday I just have the Anglo-Saxon seminar at night, so that day can focus on working on teaching/Core Writing Coordinator stuff. Thursdays I'm done once I get home from class and office hours.

I don't mind lesson planning/grading on Sundays because it doesn't take much time, and ensures Monday remains a writing day, and that the rest of my week starts with work finished. I don't mind working per se, I mind the expectation from others that I HAVE to work. If a cool idea for a lesson comes up I want to flesh it out. But can't stand when higher ups or students expect me to be at their beck and call on "off" time. The trap here is to NOT answer work emails on the weekends, not engage, and just work on things for me. And maybe work in some long, fun walks with Nehi.

So that's my prep for the semester as a PhD student. This schedule will probably be rocky in January, and maybe part of February because I'm comping in February so January and February will be consumed by prepping for that and then taking the exams. 
Grad students- how do you prep for the new semester to juggle everything you have to do?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

That's It- Break's Over

When I turn my planner's page tomorrow morning I will be looking at my January month-at-a-glance.
That's just depressing.
It's like time travel.
Without the fun.

I feel both accomplished and behind about break. I had a lot of things to finish over the break, both things that had piled up over summer and the fall semester as well as things to get ahead of for spring semester.
  • Finish book chapter and get to editor.
  • Clean out walk-in closet in office from when I moved here. Eighteen months ago.
  • Install ladder shelves in walk-in closet to order and re-organize comp  and other academic books.
  • Take three tupperware containers of loose photos and organize and send off to ScanMyPhotos.
  • Make review flashcards for comp fields

But there's a lot of stuff still undone:
  • Change Old Norse translation article from MLA to Chicago and submit to Speculum.
  • Finish reading for Old English language seminar this spring.
  • Read Donne and Cavendish for 17th Century course with committee member this spring.
I'm not worried about getting that finished by the time classes start on 12 January. Where I feel like I'm behind is my #DevilDiss schedule. I had December bookmarked to complete Round 3 Add Outside Scholarship- the final round of my work before sending to copy editor in January to send drafts to committee members right after comps in February.

I have not met that. I am about halfway through making notes/corrections on chapters 1 and 2 drafts. Which I needed some time away from the draft in order to do. BUT, here's the #DevilDiss "TO Do" list:
  • Add Christ and Satan translation and analysis and tweak Genesis B bits.
  • Add cohesive introductions and conclusions to chapters 1 and 2.
  • Add outside scholarship/footnotes to chapters 1 and 2.
  • Write chapter 2B ("absence of devil in Shakespeare") conference draft for presentation at ACMRS.
Now, the Christ and Satan and Genesis B bits may work best if I work on them during my Old English Seminar this semester, although I don't know if I want to wait that long as I want to get my drafts to the copy editor by the end of January, fix during February (during comps), and get drafts to committee members in March as soon as possible after my prospectus defense.

The rest, I have five weeks to complete and still be on schedule. This semester I have Monday and Friday set aside as #DevilDiss days. But there's also four days off for MLA.

On the positive side, I have a course release for spring because of my job as Core Writing Coordinator. And my one class is prepped so that's all set.
I had wanted to work on my Revising Milton book project over break, but I'm not really stressed about that as my spring course is that so I have all semester to work on that.

What about you? What got done, or undone over break?
What's your plan for prepping for the new semester and your own goals?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Grad Students and Holidays

Today is Christmas Eve, which means most grad students are home with family and enjoying/suffering through "quality time." Some were too broke to go home- read me :-(  and are sitting 2000 miles away from family and facing the first holiday alone EVER.

GradHacker had some great posts the last couple of weeks about what to get grad students. I have a couple of my own tips. I'm more a fan of getting students/people items that show you KNOW them versus the more impersonal gift of cash.

  • Grad students eat poorly. Most of us can rarely afford to go out to eat or eat anything other than the cheapest shit from the grocery store. Google Map your grad student's neighborhood and identify restaurants in the area and call and see about gift cards you can send your grad student.
  • Again with the food- eating right is hard. So Harry and David gifts of fruit delivery are also a great gift.
  • My aunt and uncle gave me an Amazon gift card (that with spring semester books was gone in the blink of an eye).
  • One of my other uncles asked me what my top books were that I needed. I gave him a list of three that included two #DevilDiss books and one for my Revising Milton book.
  • If your grad student is a PhD student, or otherwise approaching the job market consider pooling resources as a family to get them a gift certificate to someplace where they can get a good suit. Most of us can't afford this on our own, and all of us will need it for interviews.
  • Likewise, a nice looking (read- adult) bag/briefcase. I bought myself one as a reward for getting into my PhD program and it's the difference between student and adult.
  • Sounds silly but office supplies are always helpful. But beware your grad student may be picky about the color/size/brand of their office supplies so unless you know these details a gift card to an office supply store may be a better bet.
  •  Gas cards are also a great gift- they help with commutes and coming home.
  • Grocery store cards are good too.
Other things you can do to help students over the holiday are to not pressure them. Grad school is hard, the job market is worse. Amanda Ann Klein has a great set of posts about what the job market is like. If your grad student is on the market, be kind.

Ask them how they are. Ask them what they're working on. Ask them if they're making friends and have a support system. Show you care. But don't pressure them on publishing, or progress. Trust me- we're getting that from other places and could use a break.

The bottom line is that grad school is lonely. A lot of us have no support system. It's easy to feel as though you're all on your own. Showing you care can mean the world.
So enjoy your holidays, hug your loved ones, and be kind.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tis the Season to...Finish Studying for Comps

Twitter is all awash of people finishing and posting grades (versus last week when it was just filled with sobs echoing out of the grading cave.
Student drama is over, or at least delayed until next semester.
You pack away this semester's notes. Maybe you revise things now while it's fresh in your head, maybe you threw everything in the corner to molder and possibly spontaneously combust.
Given that next week is Christmas many people are tidying up loose ends this week in preparation for travel.
For me, the three weeks we have off is for two things- reviewing for comps the first week in February and finishing solid drafts of CH 1 and 2 of the #DevilDiss to be able to give to committee members.

Comprehensive Exams
I've been told varying things about exams. It's meant to test if I can teach the survey course for that topic. I'll be fine. It's about big ideas and scope, not specifics.
I did all my reading for comps this past summer. One of my committee members has given me sample questions that we've discussed which was very helpful so I feel solid on that except that's also the field that has a nine page reading list so...there's that. My two other committee members have been on committee this year, so at this point (despite one saying otherwise) I don't think I'll hear from them.

Our comps are written. One field per week, three weeks in a row, four hours per field.

So here are my holiday comp review plans:

  • Take my comp binders and make flash cards for works, authors, and ideas to review. Particularly for my early modern list I feel like I need the review for names of characters and names of works.

  • Take comp reading bookshelves and clean out. While I designed my comp lists around my dissertation topic a lot of these works are not directly related to the dissertation. So I'm clearing out so this bookshelf becomes the dissertation writing shelf. I also think the visually clearing out will help my focus.
  • Try coming up with and answering sample comp questions for two fields I didn't receive any sample comp questions for. Anyone want to send me sample medieval and methodology and folklore questions?
I'm not worried about comps as in not hyperventilating and panicking. I think in part because 70+ pages into the dissertation I've been working with a lot of these texts. And for the early modern, I've taught a lot of them. I am a little concerned or nervous about the two fields I haven't really met on. One member orally quizzed me this summer, so I think that I know what will be the scope, but not sure. The other field exam has a radically different format than the other two but that format is also the same as the professor's midterm and final exams for class, which I took last year.

So color coded flashcards created from color coded notes in color coded binders.
What tips do you have for the last month and change before comps?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Please Stop Shaming Your Students

Ever teacher I know tells funny student stories.

When I taught in Brooklyn, it was a release, a form of gallows humor to share with other teachers the frustrations and fears we had for our students. In NC, I noticed that the storytelling was less about this-funny-thing and more along along the lines of this-stupid-person. And every year, at the end of the semester I find that that's my problem.

It's the end of the semester, so there are lots of reflections on students' final papers, final essays, and final performances. Twitter is awash with funny quotes under #grading. These don't identify the student, and usually quote things from not using apostrophes correctly to the difference between were and where. Just as often these posts are about the teacher/instructor/professor more than the student. As teachers, I think these end of semester posts help us not feel so alone. To know that everyone goes through these things. But there is also an invisible line. And when people cross that line the tone changes to something darker. To something that seems to show people who don't like their students very much, or think teaching is beneath them, or who have privilege issues, or socio-economic bias against their students.

And that disturbs me. It disturbs me even more in new teachers because I think it sets a bad precedent about how you view and interact with your students.

I don't think you should hold conversations on social media about failing students.
It's one thing to post something about reading the syllabus. Or a student asking if a 74.5 is passing (when a 75 is a passing grade). Or emailing during finals week asking about extra credit opportunities. These tend to be generic, non-specific, and apply to everyone. And they're funny.
Or to share (verbally, in person) stories about a student- because in a lot of ways anecdotes are how new teachers learn. But sharing shaming stories in a public space has the potential to cross a line. And here's the thing- why do you feel the need to do this? Or rather, ask yourself this, are you sharing a common issue- students giving up at the end of semester, not reading directions, making silly (often funny) mistakes or does the tone of your story or post reveal that you  view your students as somehow beneath you? Less than? Do you tell the story to somehow say how important YOU are?
Because that's a problem.
I don't think you should make fun of students on scholarship.
I understand that at some schools there are scholarships and financial aid situations that teachers may see as problematic. But making fun of student performance because they're on scholarship or receiving financial aid shows your privilege and bias. I was on scholarship. I received financial aid. I am what most people would call low class, poor. And I would have been horrified if a teacher/instructor/professor had  critiqued my performance or me by these criteria. If you're a white teacher, who obviously comes from privilege then you doing this is worse.
I don't think you should make assumptions about students who fail your class, or pass judgement.
Students fail. Students who did great all semester sometimes just give up by the time they reach the final paper. These are sad things, disappointing things. But there are also lots of reasons for these types of endings in a class. Some underclassmen become overwhelmed. Some have family issues. Some just don't get it done. The thing is, most of the time, we don't know why these things happen. And making assumptions or judgments about WHY this happened or worse, WHAT you think it reveals about a student is awful. Our job is never to judge students. Evaluate based on content certainly. Judge them? Never.

 Think about this- what if you were a student and your professor posted something on social media that quoted your work. There's a whole Tumblr dedicated to this:
And some of these are funny, or remind us of things we've read or experienced in our classes. But this is what I want you to think about- what if you were this student. What if you discovered your work was publicly made fun of? How would you feel? How would this impact how you felt as a student? About your education? About teachers?

Some people say that the difference is one of public versus private. Did you post this on Facebook to private friends or in a private group or on Twitter for all the world? And to a certain extent, that is true. But more so it has to do with intent and tone.

Here's an example- as part of my end of semester reflection my students  created memes for the class. They're hysterical, and deal with all the things we as teachers and instructors point out. But it's not me making fun of them, it's them commenting on the class. I can share these, show them to other teachers, share with future classes (which my students know I'll do because I tell them) so they know what to expect from the class. But there's no shaming involved. There's no judgment.

Everyone gets frustrated, and frustration needs to be vented. Getting other people's feedback on how to deal with something is also helpful. But I think there needs to be a little more thought put into things. I've started to write something and then thought about it and deleted it. I think we all need to take a minute more before we post things. Because the simple fact is that social media has ensured that the line between public and private life is disappearing. And our students do follow us. And it is a public space.

And I think there's a very simple guideline to use- if you were a student, and you read that post by one of your professors, what would you think?
In addition, what about these questions?
  • Does what you've written reflect privilege or class bias?
  • Does what you've written have a purpose other than shaming someone?
  • Does what you've written only work to make you look better? 
 I've been chastised for often reverting back to calling students kids, a habit of years of teaching high school. And I never mean it in a condescending way. But at 38, teaching 18 year old freshmen, they do seem like kids. And kids/young adults/college underclassmen are impressionable. And impacted by what you say. And I think it's our responsibility to keep that in mind.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Teacher education

In my position as Core Writing Coordinator for my department I had to submit a proposal for a product or action I wanted to work on. I chose to focus on teacher/TA education, and the idea of institutional memory. I don't know why, but it seems as though education and content areas don't really talk to each other at the university level. Which is a shame. I am deeply invested in training teachers because I think it leads to improving student learning. And I'm a firm believer that the best teachers continually focus on their own professional development.
This semester I have worked on creating a resource manual for TAs and new teachers. I've conducted monthly workshops that focused on different topics, and these have informed my creation of each section of the manual. It's a Google Doc, so it's a live, evolving document.
I've also created a Google Site that focuses more specifically on sharing teaching specific ideas, links, articles, etc.

Right now the plan is to continue to revise and add to both of these next semester, and get specific feedback from TAs on what else they'd like to see, what isn't clear, etc.

Feel free to share and comment! I welcome feedback and comments on both.

Freddy Krueger and Bordwell

It's been a while since I blogged about what I was working on or my process. This semester with finishing coursework, and acting as the Core Writing Coordinator for my department had me busier than usual, and focused on other things.

But this past week was the last week of classes, and because I had surgery the week before Thanksgiving, I had all my final papers finished and turned in early, so the semester seemed to end early for me workwise. Final grades for one class got finished this morning, and I just have the other class' final papers to grade Monday. So except for some meetings this upcoming week, the semester is finished.

Which is nice, because I have a book chapter on the Nightmare on Elm Street series (1-6) due to my editor next weekend.
I'm excited about this project because it's applying some different theory than I normally use, in this case Bordwell, and the application really came together- the argument that early Nightmare films fit the definition of auteur film, but progress on a continuum towards big Hollywood studio productions by the end of the story. Specifically how the form follows function. I examine three key areas, the form of the film, the evolution of the character of Freddy Krueger as a reflection of the form, and the mis en scene of mirrors/doors/windows.
I only own the entire series on VHS, the collector's box set, and it has seemed fitting to watch them in this medium while I wrote about how practicalities affected the aesthetics of the films, particularly the early ones.
Sitting down to rewatch all the films within a relatively short time period has been a lot of fun, and helped me see more clearly some of the differences from one film to the next. It also seemed fitting given that the films themselves only have a year or two between them.
It's funny what you forget and what you remember. For me, the characterization of Freddy Krueger is cemented in #5: Dream Child, but I also remember that characterization as appearing much earlier in the series, and that's not true. I guess I've "read back" the final evolution onto earlier incarnations.
Anyway, I have one more film to sit down and rewatch and take notes on, and then I'll spend next week writing and revising.

I love the medieval and early modern work I do. But I do find that this type of stuff- looking at folklore and popular culture, certainly comes easier to me. The research seems easier, the writing is definitely easier. I think in part this is because of the community I have with other scholars in this field- they're some of the most supportive, kind people I've ever met and worked with. The comments and feedback is always helpful, looking at improving the work, rather than tearing me down. So I guess it's that the entire experience of research, writing, and reception is great. Not that I haven't had good experiences with medieval and early modern scholars. I guess this is just comes more easily for me, and I still have a hard time believing I get to do this and consider it a job!
Anyway, I won't be posting the actual work, as it's a chapter in an edited collection on the Nightmare series, but I will post publication information as I get it.