Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Saturday, September 26, 2015

I have a defense date (sort of)

This was a busy week.
Kind of.

It was a rather unproductive #DevilDiss week, as I had doctor's visits, mechanic visits, extra student conferences which meant extra trips down to campus which ate into my revision time. Made me think of all the ways our real lives affect and intrude on our academic ones.
I also heard that I did not get the fellowship I interviewed for, but got a nice follow up email, and am now turned full focus to the job market.
When I shared this news on Twitter, my exact comment was, "so someone make me a unicorn."
And one of my Twitter friends did!

Yesterday I received feedback on my chapter 1-3 revisions, the revisions that we'd said would determine when I would defend.
My director said that they would be putting in my recommendation letters, and approved, of me defending by summer 2016.
So I had an answer. And a deadline. And a timeline.
Because I'm not sure how dissertations get written, part of me still wonders though how bad is the dissertation where it will take me with my work ethic and schedule 9 months to get it up to snuff. Is it that bad? Should I be worried? Is this impostor's syndrome? Does everyone worry about this? Is it not good? Wouldn't someone have told me?
I'm trying NOT to listen to that voice. I'm trying just to focus that a summer defense means if I get a job offer I will be able to take it. That one way or the other, come July this phase of my life will be over and it will be time for a new adventure.

As always the notes I got on the chapters were helpful, and will make the dissertation better. I also think the notes I'm getting will mean that this dissertation is written as much as a book as I can get it, and that means that when I go to revise the dissertation into a book I will have less work to do. So that's good too.
 I was actually grocery shopping when I realized that meant I'd be graduating this year.
And I seriously had a David Tennant/Doctor Who moment:
Graduating is both terrifying and wonderful. I am proud that I have worked hard enough that I will have completed my PhD in three years.
But this single answer still leaves a lot unanswered:
  • Last week I completed about half the job applications, most of the ones with October deadlines. I asked for recommendation letters to be uploaded by 1 October, because that's the first deadline. On a side note, everyone I've had to contact for clarification or more information has been super helpful. I do have a couple of places that have not returned emails/contact.
  • Funny enough, going on the academic jobs wiki actually crashes my computer, so I'm not ging to be tempted to go there. 
  • But that also means I don't know what comes next. I assume, from what I've read, that late November, early December is when I'd hear about MLA interviews if I get any. I already booked my flight and hotel, so I'm ready to go. Which is interesting because some of the applications don't have deadlines until the end of November, so I am not sure how that will work.
  •  On a basic level, as someone with no familiarity with the PhD process other than what I've read, I don't know what happens next. I'm finishing my CH 5 and 6 revisions this week, which means that by 1 October I'll have finished the first round of revisions. But what next? Do I just keep getting notes, revise, send back, revise, repeat? How long does that sequence go on? Until I get approved drafts? I don't know.
  • So my next steps are to finish the CH 5 and 6 revisions by 1 October and send those to my director.
  • Then I'll look at my #DevilDiss storify and my prospectus to write my introduction and conclusion in October.
  • I'll submit the November round of job applications, and any other ads/jobs that come up in the next few weeks.

I've said before that my anxiousness about all of this too is I think related to my age. I will be 40 in February. My days of being 22, moving jobs and states with no thought of the long term consequences, not worrying about paying bills or where I'll be next year, are behind me.

And part of it too is, I've had an adult life. With a house. A big yard for Nehi. Benefits. A steady salary.  And I'm ready to be an adult again.

On a separate but related note:
The last month or  so I've had serious issues with anxiety, not tied to my revisions, or my job prospects, but to my teaching. Teaching is hands down one of the things I love best about my job, but I have not always had great experiences with being supported against student complaints, and this semester, this has made me incredibly anxious. I'm working through it, and I'm sure it's symptomatic of all the other things going on, but it's manifesting in my teaching.

Because the fact is, even with the knowledge that I will defend by summer 2016, I don't know if I'll get interviews, or a job. I don't know how I'll pay bills past May. Or eat. Or pay rent.

I've written before how my working class background has affected me. And I certainly know that my concerns about these monetary things is part of that. I know what it's like to be seriously concerned about how to pay for rent or groceries, so I know that's part of all this.
There are of course, other job market issues and concerns.
I took great delight last Saturday in the premiere episode of Doctor Who because of this line, which seems like the perfect attitude to have for the job market:
I have said over and over that I'm not interested in negative comments about the job market.

I think there's a big difference between not being aware of the job market reality, thinking that you can get a job without certain preparations and knowledge, or just floating in, and doing everything you can to prepare and then hoping for the best.
Focusing on the one.
As in every thing else in life, having a negative attitude, and thinking only negative thoughts cannot help. So I'm refusing to do it.
A Twitter friend reminded me of this quote, another perfect one for the job market.
For a variety of reasons I have taken to my blog, Twitter, and Facebook, asking clarifying questions about the job market, as well as asking for people to share their experiences and advice. And I've gotten the feeling from others that every program supports their students differently, providing different types of advice, one on one support, and job market information.
And it's interesting to hear all of that.

And I'm grateful to everyone on Facebook and Twitter who has answered my late night, and weekend questions as they've come up.

But criticisms of my job hunt, my program, my support, are like the negative comments, not helpful. For one, I cannot control any of that, I can only control me, so telling me that at so and so university they get X help is not helpful.
And frankly, neither is the negative attitude.
If you go through life bitter, and always looking at the negative, well, that sounds exhausting. And awful.
So I choose to be realistic rather than negative.

I am well aware that I will be competing in pools that have 100-700 people in them. That my publications, while respectable, are in folklore and popular studies and that I need to focus the next year or so on publishing in the medieval and early modern period.
But I still feel good about where I am. The work I've done. What I bring to the table.
I imagine the next few months, as so much remains up in the air, I will continue to circle round and round the same issues, probably repeating the same concerns and hopes. In many ways writing, blogging, even repeating, works as a calming mantra to me. Reinforcement that I will be okay. Regardless.

The simple fact is, at this point, the work has been done.
There's nothing more I can do.

I can stick to deadlines, revise #DevilDiss, work hard, and hope for the best.
So stick around, we'll see how it goes.
But keep your bad juju to yourself.

Friday, September 11, 2015

It's Always About Money- How unexpected expenses affect PhD life

The last few months, finishing my PhD, worried about money and the future, how my socio-economic class, upbringing, and lack of money has affected my life and scholarship is constantly on my mind.

Yesterday I had an anecdote that coalesced all of that for me.

Yesterday I received an email from UNM Parking and Transportation that the parking spot I was on the waitlist for came through and I had until the 18th to come pay for it and pick it up.

The last two years I have paid $500 each year for a pass to park in the parking structure that is five minutes from campus and my classes. I paid the extra money for a couple of reasons. The first is that I was often scheduled to be on campus all day and Nehi has a 7-8 hour crate limit. So I couldn't park in the South lot which required waiting for a bus, or walking late at night in the dark (UNM has severe campus security issues). While some grad students get privileged parking, such as MD and physics students, English PhD students are not in that class.

But this year, despite the fact that I had it written in my planner, I was trying to finish my first draft of my my dissertation and logged into the parking website three hours after Yale passes went online. And they were sold out. So I waitlisted myself on three separate parking lots, and since classes started four years ago I have had to pay hourly when I'm on campus. It's $2/hour, and I'm generally on campus for six hours, so that's $12 per day, twice a week, so $24 dollars a week, times four weeks of class, plus the week of prep, plus the two weeks of the job market class that was three hours five days a week. That means I've paid roughly $180 the past six weeks in order to do my job. The parking pass I bought yesterday that is for the entire year, and is for the dirt lot next to the parking structure was $235.

I willing paid for it. One, because it will be cheaper than the hourly by the end of the year. But the other reasons had to do with the ways in which this affected my teaching and scholarship.
  • I was rushing out of class at the end of the night, not necessarily being available to students because I couldn't afford another 30 minutes of parking, or the ticket if I didn't add time.
  • I was not necessarily going to see professors I needed to because I wasn't sure I could afford the parking.
  • I was not spending time at the library because again, couldn't afford the time.
  • I was reshuffling errands on campus, library time, doctor's appointments at student health around whether or not I could get it all done when I was already on campus, and thus already paying for parking.
  • We hold two scheduled office hours, and then the third hour is satisfied by the "by appointment," being willing and able to meet with students outside of office hours if they can't make them. And I was nervous students would ask for this because it meant I'd have to pay for additional parking.
It seems like a silly thing, parking. But it's yet another way that being poor, not having a lot of disposable income, being budgeted within an inch of your life, affects day to day life. What other ways do the daily expenses of grad school life affect you? How can a little thing end up having a huge impact?

MLA Job List 2015 Reflections

The last two years I've looked at the MLA joblist as a way of seeing what trends were in my fields, what the ads were asking for, and if there was a way for me to tailor my work towards these requirements.

Last year the initial list had 23 jobs that I would have qualified for. And a lot of them were a medieval/early modern split. That was more jobs than the year before, not by much, but a few. There were a few trickle jobs after the initial list but not many.

Today's list had 17 jobs. Most of them are early modern. There are a couple that say medieval but in the additional details want someone who can teach Old and Middle English and I'm not sure if I can sell that.
About half of these jobs were posted earlier so I'd already seen them.

On the plus side, most of these jobs are tenure track. Only one was a lecturer, and one is a VAP.

I made a spreadsheet of all the jobs, notes from the job ads, deadlines, materials required, and how to submit.
A lot want teaching philosophies. A lot want diversity statements. Writing samples vary from 15 pages to 25. I'm still not sure how this functions- 15 pages isn't an article or chapter, so it'll have to be PART of something, and not sure how to frame that. I have at least identified that I'll be creating this out of my Shakespeare chapter, so there's that.

A couple of the ads do not identify how to submit materials so that's a little confusing.
Quite a few don't list any contact information.
There is a job listed from a place that's been in the news a lot lately for their issues with tenure and treatment of their faculty. So I'm on the fence about whether or not to apply. It's a good fit description wise, but is it stupid to walk into that?

A few said they'd be Skype interviewing in December which is interesting. I already booked my MLA hotel and flight, so if I get any interviews that's all taken care of.

I then divided the jobs into October and November deadlines. I have two folders. Today I'll put the jobs in order or due date, start tailoring letters, and creating folders for those materials.

I know that the market being what it is, and less jobs this year than last in the initial posting, that it's not an improvement. I know too that wanting to live somewhere is not a factor in jobs, because we just can't afford to be that picky.

But there are three jobs in Oregon, which I am excited about.
There's one in Vancouver but it's one of those Old/Middle English ones, so bummer on that.
There's one job in a big city which I'll apply to, but I'm not sure if I'd want to live in a big city again.
The fact is I'm applying to all of these jobs.

But a friend posted this morning about thinking about the type of life you want in addition to the type of job you want. And I hear that. But with the market what it is, I don't know how picky we can afford to be. It may be a case of get the job, pay the bills, and work around quality of life.

I've written some here, about my stress levels the past month. I've worked stressful jobs, and I've been under a lot of stress in my life, and I've never felt as bad as I have this past month. Constantly feeling sick, chugging Pepto to get through days, these are not good things.
Like I told a friend, I don't FEEL stressed, but maybe I'm internalizing it. I think the source of the stress is that I don't know what I'm going to be doing in a year. I don't know if I'll have a job, be able to pay rent, buy food, all the necessary things. I'd like not to be worried about that $300 per month student loan payment I'll have to start making as soon as I graduate.
For anyone who has ever struggled with those things, that's a HUGE deal. And a huge source of stress. I'm not 22 anymore. I'll be 40 in February and I'd like to go back to having an adult life with a steady paycheck where I can pay all my bills and not worry about money. I'd like to have a home, not worrying about moving. I'd like to be settled.

Now that being said, I'll take any job I get. I'll pack Nehi in the truck and move anywhere. The benefits of being a homebody are as long as Nehi has a nice yard, with a park nearby, we're pretty much set. We don't require much.
But I don't have any control over that. And there's no savings left after three years of my PhD program. So there's no safety net. And I worry about things like even IF I get a job, where will the money to move come from? Do universities pay that? If I have to move every couple of years from job to job, will they pay every time?

There's no way for me to know who I'm competing against other than knowing there will be PhDs who graduated last year, the year before that, and current grads. Some will have had time to publish more in the specific field.

I feel good about my publication record but they are all in the folklore and popular culture range. Which makes sense because I apply folklore to medieval, early modern, and current culture. But it's not specifically in medieval or early modern and I'm sure I'll be going against people who have.

I do have a strong teaching record, and teaching at UNM, I certainly check that "be able to teach diverse populations" box.

I have a strong conference presentation record. 

Two of my four references have seen me teach, and I think all will write me strong recommendation letters. I still don't have a defense date, but I'm in the revision stage which I think says a lot. I'm ABD and on the market, but with a complete draft of all six chapters and through the first round of revisions I think puts me in a good place. I'm still aiming for a spring/summer defense.

I think I'd be happy in a variety of positions, so I have more possibilities than some who are limited by what they think they want, or issues of family ties or requirements that dictate what jobs can be applied to.

If I'd known I would have focused more on publishing in medieval and early modern fields. But there's nothing I can do about that now, and I think my explanation in my materials works. As does the fact that my next big project is turning my dissertation into a book, which is nothing BUT medieval and early modern work.
In short, I think I've done everything I can to make myself a good candidate. And that's all you can do.
For now I have concrete goals to accomplish- the next month I'll focus on tailoring my materials, putting in my applications, and then we'll just have to wait and see.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Chapter Four: “Hell is empty And all the devils are here”: The Absence of Devils in Shakespeare Revisions Complete

Yesterday I was planning on just completing copy edits and last looks on CH 4, but ended up doing more notes than that. Throughlines, and clarifications. It was more work than I planned, but good work.
This morning I typed up these final notes and finished my CH 4 revisions (this round at least) and sent off to my director.
At first, this revision was difficult for me because I really thought the initial chapter was good. As I sent off the second half of #DevilDiss in general I was feeling good about these chapters. I thought I'd really learned a lot from the first half and thought I had tracked those changes through.

So I was disappointed when initial notes said I had to reorganize the entire chapter. But here's the thing- being disappointed is not the same as thinking those notes aren't good.

In a lot of ways the revisions on this chapter was about chucking my preconceived notions ABOUT this chapter.
Initially, I didn't even think I'd have a "canon" chapter in the dissertation but I realized this past winter that the absence of devils in Shakespeare had to be addressed.
At first I didn't think I needed to address Macbeth because there were no actual devils in the play, but then I realized that Macbeth is ultimately revealed as the devil.
Because I spent a lot of time on talking about the other supernatural figures in Shakespeare's plays, which was important, because there's a lot of overlap, it was also page 15 before I got to my argument.
I ended up reorganizing the whole chapter around the subtopics of monsters, sorcery and witches, and ghosts. This enabled me to use scholarship on these other supernatural figures as a foundation and way in for discussing the subsumed devil figures in Shakespeare's plays.
I even ended up folding the fairies/demons bits into spirits under sorcery/witches.
I also ended up cutting madness as a separate subtopic, instead referencing it under ghosts/haunting.

I don't think I ever write with pre-formed arguments in mind, but I started working on this project in 2010, so I've had plenty of time to think about these things and sort the puzzle pieces. But as the above shows, I can still be surprised by things.

As my director suggested, I went back to the texts, reread the plays, remarked up the texts. I wanted to use a fresh copy, and have the new Bedford, but it was missing some plays so I returned to my Norton.

This chapter, more than others, needed much chunkier footnotes to show that I was aware of the field of Shakespeare scholarship. So there was that.

So this chapter had some pretty significant revisions. A complete overhaul in many ways. But the notes were really helpful, and I am happy with where it is.

Next Steps:
  • Today I will go through the four pages of notes I received for CH 5 the pamphlet chapter. I'll write on my copy the notes and some ideas to address. Then I'll start handwriting my revision notes. There are a lot of notes to fix, but not the complete overhaul CH 4 needed (or CH 1-3 needed). The biggest note is an expansion of one section to make my argument clearer. And I need to do some reframing with the intro.
  • Tomorrow the MLA joblist gets released.
    • I had told my committee members that I would send them my job market materials, the spreadsheet with all the jobs I'm applying to, and drafts of my dissertation so far.
      • Given that my feelings about drafts have not matched feedback, I confess to being nervous about sending them drafts that are not yet approved.
    • I feel good about my baseline job market documents. But I need to tailor those materials to specific ads.
    • Most of the job ads that I've looked at have deadlines of 15 October through 1 November. So the next six weeks will be busy.
      • I can't afford to stop dissertation revisions. I have notes on CH 5, and still need to revise my prospectus into an intro, and write a conclusion. I'm hoping to get the CH 5 revisions finished the next week or so then pivoting to job market full time until I get more revision notes.
      • I think what I'll do is keep working on #DevilDiss all day Monday and Wednesday and Tuesday and Thursday mornings but dedicate Fridays to job market work. If I need to change that to include TR mornings I will.
  •  I'm still waiting on CH 6 notes, and then notes on CH 1-3 my first round of revisions. The first round of CH 1-3 revisions is what determines, well everything- job market chances and defense date. Then I assume the CH 4, 5 revisions.
    • Because I don't have a timeline on these, I'm a bit adrift. I guess I'll plan on focusing on job stuff the next month and then the introduction and conclusion. Focusing on what's in front of me.
    • That means for good or ill, job market stuff (barring responding to new ads as they pop up) will be complete by 1 November.
    • That leaves November and after for focusing on whatever the next steps in revision are.
    • I'm not really sure how all of this works, but I assume at this point I just keep revising based on notes until the drafts are approved and I have a defense date.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Monetizing My Fandom: The Represent Campaigns

Back in 2014 Stephen Amell did something interesting with his fans. He created a Represent t-shirt campaign where the proceeds would benefit F**k Cancer. Amell is a different type of celebrity, interacting with his fans a lot (himself) on Facebook, occasionally on Twitter, and from I can gather, genuinely interacting. This Represent campaign, where students would buy a t-shirt from Amell to support the cause, seemed a great way for celebrities to put their status to good use. Fans would buy the shirt because they were fans, and it's a great cause.

Amell has raised a butt load of money. He crowdsourced the design. He (and his family and friends) wore every variation of the shirt. He posted updates on Facebook. He not only monetized his fandom he galvanized them. And I can say as someone who participated, it felt good to participate in this way.

But this campaign led to others.

All of a sudden EVERYONE had a Represent campaign.
All for good causes- animal rights, depression, suicide prevention. And all of these actors took to social media to sell their product. Every single one of the campaigns went above and beyond their stated goals.
And that's great. It's a great way to raise awareness, make fans feel like they're personally working with the actor towards something, and being able to wear your activism is a great approach.

Am while I participated in a lot of these, because I like the idea ("Hello Boys" given my #DevilDiss is my favorite, and the softest t-shirt I've ever owned) something started to bother me.
The first was that all these campaigns after Amell's first one didn't read as genuine to me as Amell's first one. There was no informing through social media about the cause, the importance. There was no interaction between the star and fans. It was usually just a simple presentation of "here's my shirt, buy it." While Twitter and Facebook and Instagram was used to spread these messages, there was little interaction, it was strictly a one way street.
Now this doesn't make the causes less worthy, or the participation less valid.

But I continued to be bothered.

I think what was bothering me started to coalesce with the Supernatural campaigns. And that's mainly because of Supernatural's relationship with fandom which alternates between acknowledging that fans are the reason they are there, and making fun (often pointedly) of their fans. A lot of the time they're not very nice about it. And Jensen Ackles does it more than Jared Padalecki. It happens in interviews, at con panels. It's sometimes snide, often condescending. So I thought it odd that Ackles would suddenly do a 180 and expect fans to pay money for a shirt with his face on it. But Supernatural fans are loyal, despite their treatment, and once again Represent campaign made goal, and spurred several other Supernatural campaigns, although these shifted in light of Padalecki's disclosure about his and his friends' fights with depression.

I appreciate the honestly with which Padalecki has spoken about his experiences. And I recognize that his campaign with his target demographic of fans, will probably have a large effect. But it bothered me that a show, and an actor, who had continuously, and consistently, made fun of his fan base, would then turn around and take advantage of this. Granted it's for a cause, not him personally, but it bothered me. It seem disingenuous.

There was something else though that continued to bug me. But I couldn't figure it out.

There have been other t-shirt campaigns that are not Represent.
Eddie McClintock creates Warehouse 13 t-shirts that DO NOT have his face on them but instead make references to the show.

But McClintock found himself in hot water with some fans the other week when he was designing a new t-shirt and used some fan art as mock ups. While he quickly cleared the misunderstanding up on Twitter fans online jumped all over him within seconds.
And the main criticism of the fans was that McClintock was taking advantage of his fans, making money off of some fan's art without their permission- he was monetizing his fandom.
To my knowledge, McClintock's campaigns are not charity based, the proceeds actually DO go to cover the cost of the shirts, then the profit to him. And there's nothing wrong with that. They're cool designs, and the latest one (above) sums up the show perfectly and I'll probably save my pennies to get one.
But it's another piece in the monetizing fandom puzzle.
There's a lot of scholarly, and aca-fan, and fan writings about monetizing fandom. 

Which I guess is part of what has stuck in my craw about these Represent campaigns. Because it IS monetizing fandom, but for some reason no one is paying attention to that aspect. Or the complicated relationship some of these actors have WITH their fandom. There are some problematic issues with these campaigns. And while I dabble in fan studies, I think it's something that someone who actually specializes in this should pay attention to. I think there's a lot to be said about monetizing fandom, creating the illusion of a relationship, using social media to purposely create that false sense, and how this is a reflection of new trends. 

But something new came up last week, something that solidified for me a lot of the issues I couldn't quite put my finger on with all this.

Last week Felicia Day announced her Represent campaign that focused on cyber bullying.
Notice anything?
I did.
And finally it hit me what had bothered me so much about the other campaigns.
Every single one of them centers around the actor's face large as life on the t-shirt. While some of them make some reference to the cause, most of these references are vague rather than specific, and are not the main focus of the t-shirt.
It's narcissistic. And that fed into my feeling about these campaigns.
Day on the other hand just made a cool t-shirt. She used social media to spread her message. In many ways her campaign is the same as the others. But it focused on the cause.
Now I don't know if this is different because Day is a woman, or if she's just not a narcissist. But THIS campaign I whole-heartedly support. It reminded me of Amell's first campaign, the genuine nature of it.

Like I said, I think it's great that celebrities are galvanizing the fanbase to learn about causes, support them, wear their activism. But I think there's a better way to do it.
And I certainly think that there's a treasure trove him for scholars to look at.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Working Class in Academia II: Blame the theatre

The other day I wrote about being working class in academia and how it affected both how I viewed work and how others judged me.

This past week I've been working on my chapter 4 #DevilDiss revisions, the Shakespeare chapter, and it's been hard going. Not because the notes weren't good (they were) or because I didn't know how to fix the larger issues (I figured that out on day one) but because I'm getting worn down, and stressed. I've never internalized stress before in my life, but I am now. To the point where it's affecting my eating habits, and I'm chugging these all the time.
Since I've been working non-stop on #DevilDiss my DVR has gotten pretty full. When I'm working I like to have the tv on as background noise, but I quickly tune it out, so it can't ever be something I need to pay attention to. So the DVR keeps recording, and filling up. This week, since revisions, notes, and looking up research is a different type of writing for me, I've been trying to clear out the things I have on the DVR.

The other day it was Whiplash and I jokingly put on social media that anyone who thought the treatment in the movie was harsh never got a theatre degree at ECU.
I was only partially kidding.
And it led to an epiphany.
My work ethic only partially comes from my background. The rest comes from my indoctrination, sorry, I mean training, in theatre at 18.
Yes, my mother worked retail, often six and seven days a week. And as a manager, they were long days, often first in, last out. And she would have died at work if she hadn't gotten disability, she certainly worked for a lot of years. And I often saw her juggling two jobs to support us, a paralegal or retail job during the day and working at a restaurant at night. I thought every one did that. And we were still poor all the time.

And all of that got absorbed in my brain, but it was what I learned my four years at ECU in their technical theatre program that cemented these things.
These are the things that I learned there:
  • On time is late and 15 minutes early is on time.
  • There are no sick days. In fact, calling in dead wasn't an option.
  • There are no days off. There are changeover days.
  • There are no holidays or vacations.
Now don't get me wrong, I LOVED working in theatre. And I miss it a lot. I particularly miss the friends I had then. But there are more than a few horror stories that impacted my work ethic.
  • I once when running a crew jumped off the pit cover onto the floor, landed on a plug and rolled my ankle. It immediately swelled, and was instantly painful. And I waited until the end of the four hour call to call 911 because I knew that if I left crew call early I'd be in trouble. I was put on crutches and told to stay off it for weeks. I returned to work the next day because I knew I'd be in trouble otherwise.
  • Once on tour I had a horrible stomach flu. We moved the set piece we were assigned in the show further into the wings in between scenes so I could throw up in a bucket during down time.
We were taught that if you ever missed a crew call, no matter the reason, you would fail. That there was no such thing as time off, holidays, or vacation. Quality of life was not really a thing. Off time wasn't either. We were taught that our work ethic would serve us well. That ECU's reputation for only producing dedicated techs would serve us well.

And it did, kind of. I worked from the day I graduated, first in Atlanta, where I worked freelance, then as the master electrician for Georgia State University's roadhouse the Rialto. Then making the move to NYC where I worked freelance, then for Manhattan School of Music, and finally ending up at the Public Theatre as their production electrician.

But from 1994 when I started at ECU and 2001 when I quit theatre to become a teacher, I worked 6-7 days a week. When I worked at the Public we had Nextels we were expected to on call 24/7. Many nights I'd just get home to my apartment at 210th and Broadway only to get the call to head back to the theatre. I never had any holiday off except Christmas. There were no weekends, no vacation days.

I share this because this attitude, this habit of working all the time, is as ingrained in me as my mom working two jobs. I don't share it to inflate myself, or disregard others. This was MY experience. Where I got things from.

But maybe too, the point of this is to consider how much of an impact what we tell 18 year olds has. That the culture of our programs can have lasting effects on our students.
I don't regret my time at ECU, or in professional theatre later. But I can not regret it at the same time that I can also acknowledge that it impacted how I don't feel comfortable not working. That I don't know how to take down time. And that the learned behaviors I have can be traced to this time.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Blogging About Process (and why I don't worry about people stealing my ideas)

A lot of what I blog about here is my process, the brainstorming phase as I show/share with my writer's notebooks, the initial phase as I usually work things out in color coded papers, then onto conference presentations, then onto article or dissertation chapters.
I've been asked before if I worry about sharing so much of my work online, that someone might steal my ideas.
And here's why I don't, because my writer's notebook and my online presence show the entire process, and there's no way to fake the process.
And this scene from Working Girl is always what I think about, that the final product could be taken, but never all the work leading up to it...

Friday, September 4, 2015

Working Class in Academia

I wrote a chapter for part of a forthcoming edited collection on Steve Rogers as Working Class Hero, how part of what defines him as a hero is his background as working class Brooklynite.
In a lot of ways he is a hero because of the working class ethic he represents. His work ethic as well as his morals make him a hero.

I'm no Steve Rogers, but more and more I think about how class impacts my scholarship and the ways I am viewed.
When I taught high school I constantly got snide comments from other teachers along the lines that the only reason I was able to do everything I did- curriculum design, outreach, parent and student contact, service, was because I didn't have husband and children at home. The implication that THEY could do these things if they were so unencumbered wasn't subtle. The implication that my lack of husband and kids was the ONLY reason I was so productive was also not subtle. It couldn't be because I was good at time management, or juggling or projects, or just that I worked hard.

When I was working on my Masters at a program filled with elite, private school students, I faced this again. As people were struggling to get their reading and writing done, I was often sitting out in the sun reading X-Men comics. Because I always did all my reading before courses started. And I read really fast, for things that came up during the course. And I work hard. So I often had down time. But when other students and professors saw me engaged in non-course related readings their first thought was not that I worked hard and got stuff done. It was that in some way in order to be finished early I had to have cut corners, not done well, rushed things.

I finished that program in four years instead of five. One summer I took three classes instead of two. Another semester I drove two hours to ECU for a night class, leaving right after my high school teaching day for a 6-9p course, arriving home after 11p, so I could transfer the credit in to graduate in less time. And I did it because I couldn't afford another summer. Because while I applied for work study I still had to take out student loans. So I busted my ass, I worked hard, and I graduated early.

I finished my PhD coursework in a year and a half. I defended my prospectus two weeks after finishing comps. I completed a draft (albeit a rough one) of my dissertation in less than nine months. I've turned the first half of revisions around in a month. I'm working hard, not so I can say I can work hard, but because this is just who I am. It's how I work.

Time is often a luxury. And it's often a luxury decided by class. The higher your socio-economic status, the more likely you can afford to take time- time off, time to consider, time away.

I don't take time off because often, I can't afford to, in addition to being willing to sacrifice things to reach goals. I sacrificed time off when I commuted to ECU because the payoff was worth it. I am willing now to sacrifice social activities to finish my dissertation.
I don't go out. I don't socialize. I don't do things. One, I can't afford to on a TAship and student loans. And two, that's not why I am here.
I don't share my experiences on how I work to make people feel bad, in fact I often tell people to steal my strategies but not use me as a role model. I don't have a husband. I don't have kids. I only have to work around the demands of my dog, Nehi. So my schedule is freer and more flexible than others. But I don't think that should mean that my work ethic, my ability to bust my ass, should be discounted. I don't think how hard I work should be discounted.

I work hard. And I work fast. Because I don't know any other way to do it. I spend 6-7 days a week, 12-15 hours a day working because it's important to me to finish my dissertation, to graduate, to get a job. And I'm willing to sacrifice things until that goal is accomplished.

I'm not saying be me.
I'm saying don't punish me for being me. Don't judge me because I'm not your work ethic, your socio-economic class, your approach.
Judge me on my own merits.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Regular Check Ins and Changes in Attitude...

Every four weeks I do a check in survey with my students. So I'll be sending them out in Blackboard announcements next week. I use Google Forms and mimic the questions on their end of semester IDEA forms. Pretty much I want to know what they like, what they're struggling with, and what they have issues with. This allows me to course correct and see what needs to change. The survey becomes part of a class conversation, what I can change, what I can't and why. I use it to be transparent about my choices.
It's a way to course correct, but also have a heads up if there are issues.
It doesn't always work. Last semester the check in surveys every four weeks identified nothing major, but on the end of semester IDEA forms I got hammered. I received comments that I was mean, harsh, and it hurt and surprised me. I am direct, but not mean, rigorous, not harsh.
So I spent time this summer wondering why this was. I wondered if it was because I wore a tie to work.
Twitter had a lot of conversations this summer about the prevalence of student shaming (as evidenced by the #examhowler trends this summer, and the ways it violates students), the often knee-jerk response to just blame the students for things, or assume they're lazy or stupid. There were also a lot of conversations this summer about how we approach our classes- whether we focus on policing or content. And since this seemed directly tied to my concerns, I added this to my brain's melting pot, as I thought about what I wanted to do differently this semester.
As a female high school teacher I often found that it was easier to front load all the "Don't Do This" the first day, laying down the law, to save me time and energy later. But in a lot of ways this set the tone of the whole class to being a form of gotcha.

As I sat down to brainstorm new ways though I was hit by the fact that this was never my approach in after school tutoring or when I taught Saturday school. So what was different? In one situation I felt I needed to police behavior, and in the other I was focused on helping the students get what they needed.

So I made a list of things I wanted. Then I started thinking of concrete things I could change in my classroom to reflect these changes.
I decided to start with my syllabus, as that's a focal point. All teachers hear a lot of "it's in the syllabus" and I get the frustration with taking weeks to craft something and then getting asked about what's in it- the very thing a well crafted syllabus hopes to avoid. But I also wonder what it IS about the syllabus that prompts this. If 100s, nay 1000s, of students are all making the same mistake, at some point I think it's worth asking what misunderstandings there are. So I started there.
  • Many syllabi contain the language that it's a contract between the professor and student. But how many of our students understand what that means? Do they deal with contracts? Do they read them? Do they understand the genre expectations?
    • I changed my language and approach to telling the students that the syllabus was the "how to" for my class- how to email, how to write assignments, how to do well.
  • The last couple of years I've used a presentation of memes as a way to introduce my pet peeves in the syllabus. The students seemed to like it, but informed by the conversations this summer, I didn't want to set the tone of the class by focusing on policing. That's not what we'll spend the next 16 weeks doing, so I moved the policing out of the classroom.
    • This year I made two 5 minute movies that covered the highlights of the syllabus, the pet peeves and students watched them in their own time the first week.
    • Instead we spent the first day of class talking about the content of the course- what we'd be doing.
I've always used a lot of tech in my classroom, but the not policing translates too to reframing laptops and cellphones. My policy before was as long as use did not interfere with class.  Now the phrasing is positive. In fact I went through my entire syllabus and rephrased ALL the language so that it was not policing. It costs me nothing to rephrase and still say the same thing, and might gain me a whole lot in the classroom.
One of my syllabi is here, so you can see the language.

I've never been a chalk and talk teacher, but especially in my survey course, I open most days with a short mini-lesson. But this semester, with these changes, I've noticed when the students turn to their group discussions breaking down the text, they're approaching it differently. And since I haven't changed anything but the above in how I teach, I've gotta credit the change in class culture with the change in their engagement.

I ended up not changing how I dressed, I'm still wearing ties, but reflecting on these issues over the summer, and implementing these changes as resulted in a radical change in my the tone of my classrooms.

I'm interested to see if the survey results match the feeling I have in my classroom. And of course, it will be interesting to see if this translates into students doing better in my class.

One of the other reasons I wanted to make these changes is as a teacher now in my 15th year, I'm tired of the tone that seems to dominate so many conversations about students. As a sarcastic person, and someone that knows the value of venting, I can understand the source of some of the frustrations, and choices. But maybe because I now consider myself a public scholar and teacher, the venting that may occur in a teacher's lounge, in private, vented and forgotten, has become something more. It's become a public sport.

In so many the tone seems to assume students are stupid, and lazy. And that concerns me. Because if you don't like teaching, dealing with students, or assessing them, seeing how they think, I don't know why you're here.
Let's flip it- how would you have felt if you read some of these things from one of YOUR professors? If they made fun of an assignment you recognized as yours? Or if you saw a comment you thought applied to you? How would you have felt?
I would have been devastated.

Everyone needs to vent. But when it becomes public, that's different. When it's no longer a single "bad day" but seems to reflect an institutional dislike for your students, that's different.
And to be clear- I don't care what you do in your classroom: laptops or no, tech or no, policies or no. I made a resolution at the beginning of the year to not respond to think pieces that cover those things, because it's just overdone. Although personally, I don't see how, with accessibility, and making sure students learn, you can ever be all one way or all the other, teaching is rarely so black and white.
I guess what I'd like to see is all of us taking a little more time to be reflective on WHY we do the things we do. If you have solid pedagogical reasons for why you do the things they do, and if they serve your population of students, great. But I keep thinking of something an experienced teacher told me when I first started, that if you were making decisions based on what was easiest for you instead of what served your students you weren't doing your job.
So that's my check in.
I'll let you know how it continues to go.