Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Monday, March 28, 2016

#DevilDiss2 Final Edits Complete (Kind Of)

I'm on spring break from my high school teaching job this week so I have nothing but work days in PJs this week.
Yesterday evening I made my last revision note on page 404 of my dissertation “Pondering his voyage”: The Popular and Folkloric Origins of the English Devil from the Anglo-Saxons Up Through Paradise Lost.
Here were my final feelings: 
  • The introduction is good. 
  • Chapter one needed some work. Originally I had at the center of my argument contrasting monstrosity and the English folkloric devil using monster theory. That at first the overlap between devil and monster is unclear but as English national identity evolves, the devil separates and becomes a stand in for "not us" something the English can define themselves against. But I had a note to cut. So a lot of this is gone. It's a piece I've identified to revisit for the transition to book.
  • Chapter two focuses on physical attributes and chapter three on personality and actions. There's some overlap here so it was a judgement call on where some things went. I had a note to move some major things and I split the difference. Chapter three more than chapter two needed not revision but overhaul. Which brings me to my fear about all this. I had a complete (crappy) draft in August. A second draft by 31 December. So this is the third draft. Chapter one was a seminar paper so it's seen more drafts. Chapter six was also a class paper so it's seen like seven additional drafts. BUT for the rest I don't feel so much that each draft has been revised so much as completely overhauled. Which is fine. Certainly that first draft needed it, it was awful. But it also means that I feel a little nervous about this being the final revision, as particularly with chapter three I once again had to overhaul it versus refining and tweaking what I have. This makes me VERY nervous.
  • Chapter four needed some organizational swapping, but I feel good about it as it was minor flow issues. In fact the second half of the dissertation as a whole feels better than the first half. But this is balanced because I had detailed notes on CH 1-3 to use in revision and none on CH 4-6 so again I'm a little nervous about this.
  • Chapter five went well with revision going pretty quickly.
  • Chapter six went slow. But I think this is because it's been through so many drafts that at this point it's the only chapter I'm completely over.
  • My conclusion isn't very long but I've been told that's pretty normal.

A little more than a month ago I wrote the general revision notes from my director on the board as well as my schedule. I managed to fix these edits as I went. I had a ridiculous number of useless commas. I told people they "must" a lot. I deleted every "then." I had a lot of run on sentences that got cut up and made clearer.
All in all I feel good about the state of the dissertation.
But I've felt good about all the drafts :-/
I know, I know, a good dissertation is a done dissertation and I'm almost there.
A few weeks ago on Twitter there was a conversation about stressing about the dissertation. It centered around advice someone had gotten and it made the rounds a few times. It wasn't advice to me, but I have clung to it.
Now this is funny. It's funny because I want it to be true. It's funny because I want to cuddle this thought at night when I'm terrified I won't pass. It's funny because it's a beacon of hope. It's funny because I'm not the only one and this is comforting. 
So I keep returning to this again and again.

Because there's no time for major issues at this point. I'll turn the dissertation as a single document, this preliminary final draft, in to my director (and offer to other committee members if they want it) by M 4 April. At that time I'll also send it to my university's rep to check for formatting.
Then I get a month off. 
A month to just work my full time job and sleep.
My director said by the beginning of May I'd have any last looks notes to then fix by 15 May when I need to send the final-final draft to everyone for my 17 June defense. I'm hoping that if there are notes they are small, minor, infinitesimal because, well, I just can't afford to have them be anything else at that point.

Like many things with the dissertation finishing the final revisions felt momentous, and then I realized that there was still a lot to do.
  • I handwrite all my revision notes, doing all the heavy lifting work wise. But I now need to type all of these notes up. In past revisions it's taken me about half a day to type up a chapter. I have six chapters, so I'm aiming by Thursday to be finished typing it all up.
    • The good thing is because I've already done the "work" this is time consuming but pretty mindless.
  • I got unexpected notes on a chapter, a couple of weeks ago so I need to check that I've addressed those. I'm just checking content though at this point, that it's accurate, not other notes as I'm pretty sure two drafts later I've hit those.
  • I then have a couple of notes of items to move to the bibliography, and to double check that I've cited my primary works.
    • It and my pamphlet appendix are 124 pages long so this is not a short job but again, it's relatively minor.
  • Then I need to spell and grammar check the whole document (always fun with so many Old English and Middle English translations).
  • Because I'm in my Word One Doc at this point formatting is all done which is good. The bad news is when I was working in Google Docs it was easy to move things because I just opened it in multiple tabs. So the cutting and pasting in chapters two and three may take a while.
  • I have a handful of books that I need to insert in footnotes
    • I woke up today to the nasty YOU'VE BEEN BANNED FROM ILL email. I have a couple of overdue books (because I needed to wait to add them to footnotes and they're TWO DAYS overdue ILL, chill!). I'm not worried, I have to run errands tomorrow and I'll drop them off. So they can stop with the death notes.
So it's the final stretch. Most of these notes are minor and I'm hoping to be done by the end of the week. It'd be nice if I was done by Friday and got the weekend off-off. I couldn't tell you the last time I cleaned my house. Between the heat and the winds the last few weeks it's covered in desert dirt and puppy fur. It's pretty gross, but...priorities.
One of my errands tomorrow is to pick up my graduation gear despite the fact that I'm not attending graduation (shut up, I EARNED that Harry Potter outfit).
The coloring seems appropriate given my dissertation.

So I am almost there.
I just need to get through this week.
So if you have any good juju to send me, feel free to pass it along...

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Teaching Early Shakespeare Step by Step: Week 11 Revision Part II

For me the most important part of the revisions are the cover letters. I require that students state what they changed and why. I do this because if they don't understand what they did wrong and more importantly how to correct it, then they will continue to make these mistakes.
In general, students do well on this. But the cover letters also let me see where the disconnects still are, and what additional materials or help I should provide.

There were still some students that did not do a close reading. I do not know how to fix this. We spent eight weeks doing close reading practice in class assignments. The feedback focused on this, and I thought the assignment guidelines were clear. In general I saw plot summary and generalizations rather than textual examples and analysis tied to that. I also saw that thesis and topic statements needed work

So for the thematic paper, I did create this to help walk them through what the paper should do in addition to the assignment guidelines. 
It also builds on the weaknesses I noticed.
I put it in announcements, but that does depend on them taking advantage of it.

This paper also builds on the close reading, and I encourage them to use their feedback to improve.
Not many took advantage of the chance to revise. This could be due to busy schedules, being willing to "eat" the grade because other ones count more or Option C (something else entirely).
But they did have the option.
And hopefully the ones who did revise found the back and forth email discussions helpful.

I HOPE that I see improvement in the thematic papers because of all these interventions. I HOPE that more see the value in revising. That's how they are designed.
But that's hard to know if they don't revise and share in their cover letters.

Friday, March 25, 2016

College Board Needs to Revamp their Humanities Courses

Being back in a high school classroom I have a unique perspective on the view over the divide into college as well as a college professor looking backwards.

When I took AP English in 1993-4 it was still a single course. It was one of the hardest classes I'd ever taken, and hardest teachers. I ended up earning a 5 and tested out of East Carolina University's English requirements.
I only ever took one English class in undergraduate, a Shakespeare course required by my theatre degree.

This was not an advantage. As I progressed through my M.S. Ed. and then M.A in English, and now finishing my PhD, I realize how much I lost by not taking English as an undergrad. From what I see in the First Year Composition (FYC: 101/110, 102/120) courses I've taught, as well as 200 level expository writing courses and 300 level literature courses, it continues to make a difference.

AP courses are pushed in many schools, and in certain programs such as AVID, for their rigor and their college prep qualities. In addition to this I've seen in many poorer schools that students and parents are encouraged to start taking AP courses sophomore year and take 5-6 AP courses in their junior and senior years in order to "compete." This move is also sold to them as a way to spend less money on college, as they will transfer in as sophomores or juniors with all their credits. That AP courses are cheaper than college credit tuition. Dual credit courses are sold in a similar way.

Now, with math and science classes I can see the appeal and relevance. I also understand the argument of take AP courses while you still have the considerable support system of high school- one on one tutoring, parent support, extra help and resources. Unfortunately, the argument falls apart when you start talking about humanities or start examining the details.
Some key differences often not addressed in AP courses:
  • Time: high school classes often meet for 50 minutes five days a week for a year or if on the block system 90 minutes five days a week for a semester. Most high schools expect students to work every day their in class, an issue of "seat time" by which schools are judged. This often means students do more work but not necessarily for pedagogical reasons
    • Rigor then gets mistaken for "more work." 
    • Also, if they're taking the recommended 5-6 AP courses per year, this means the students are overwhelmed, buried under work
  • Money: In many cases AP is the realm of richer kids. Some schools pay for the exam and/or offer waivers or financial aid. Most don't. AP exams are $92 each. In addition to this most AP courses require students to buy their own materials, an obstacle to lower income students. Compound this with lack of resources at home (Internet access, computers, etc.) and the social-economic divide widens.
  • Training: While College Board offers workshops and conferences as well as online resources and training the simple fact is AP teachers are not college professors. There is no requirement to align your course, teaching, materials to actual college courses. In none of my training was I ever encouraged or pointed to college professors' syllabus to try and align mine with theirs. There is no encouragement or incentive to go observe college courses or speak to college professors to see how to bridge the gap.
  • Alignment: While AP Language and Composition covers some of the material seen in a FYC course (rhetorical moves for one) neither of the AP English courses bear any resemblance to FYC.
The end result is a huge disconnect between what is sold to students and parents as "college prep" and what college courses actually do.
The Medieval Academy of America recently announced moves to try and influence AP course curriculum as there were clear gaps and errors in what was being taught in AP history courses. There was an outcry by medievalists as they realized students were taught that history obviously started in the Renaissance (not even early modern). As someone who just observed someone comparing dystopian literature to "The Dark Ages" versus the Renaissance, my cringing feels their pain.

The same disconnect exists in the AP English courses (now two courses, AP Language which is typically taught in 11th grade and AP Literature which is typically taught in 12th grade).
College Board is very specific to state that they have no required works, or syllabus but rather a series of guidelines and recommendations. For AP Literature they provide this. For AP Language and Composition this.

On their webpage, College Board states:
The AP® Program unequivocally supports the principle that each individual school must develop its own curriculum for courses labeled “AP.” Rather than mandating any one curriculum for AP courses, the AP Course Audit instead provides each AP teacher with a set of expectations that college and secondary school faculty nationwide have established for college-level courses

AP teachers must submit their syllabus for the audit. But I don't know who evaluates them. I do know that graders are AP high school teachers who are paid.
I think if more high school teachers understood what FYC and college English covers, and if more college professors knew what high school English covers, they'd start to see the issues and see how not addressing this hurts all of us.

Here are some of the consequences of this disconnect:
  • If students are in AP Language and Composition and then AP Literature (which most do, few if any students take one and don't progress to the other) then they miss covering foundational American Literature and British Literature texts as AP courses have their own required reading and therefore do not cover the "typical" 11th and 12th grade required reading. This means that students are never exposed to expected, canon classics. While there are lots of issues with the canon, there is still a reason why they are canon. 
    • This also has issues for high school teachers as these AP courses then don't align with Common Core
  • Across the country, the last decade has seen radical changes in FYC. There has been a shift towards emphasizing writing for specific rhetorical situations, teaching according to a genre model, emphasizing multimodal literacy, and portfolio work. None of which is taught in AP Language and Composition or AP Literature.
  • Because students are using AP English courses to test out of undergraduate English (a score of 3 or above, out of 5, gets them out at most schools' English requirements). 
    • At most schools because almost everyone takes FYC there is a certain amount of acclimation that happens in these courses. Here we call it sequence 0. It addresses how to work in college, study, resources, how to navigate office hours, the library, juggling work load. These are all key skills. And they are resources AP students are not getting. This has a cumulative effect as the gap becomes more apparent as they move up in courses.
I used to argue that AP English courses should not test students out of college English but instead count for electives only.
But at this point, I believe the gap is simply too wide.
College Board MUST redesign their AP English courses so that they realign with the reality of the current college English courses. Colleges need to rethink how and when they award credit for AP courses. College professors and high school teachers need to have more conversations about what they do in their classrooms and how they can support each other.

There are some practical steps we can all take:
  • Both sides can look at each others courses and syllabus and see what the expectations are. A lot of this can be solved by regular dialogue between high school and college professors
  • MLA and other professional English organizations need to stand up and insist that College Board make changes to their English courses
  • Invested people then need to be willing to put in the work to revise these courses
  • College Board needs to revise both its course and teacher expectations

Sunday, March 13, 2016

My Work Schedule During Final #DevilDiss2 Edits

The last couple of weeks have been very busy.
And in some ways, stressful and awful (but none of this tied to my new job).
Because of a lot of factors I have not been on social media much. I just don't have the time.

However, I do believe in blogging as a resource so I wanted to share what my schedule is like now that I'm finishing final edits this month.

Work Week:
5a: Get up, walk dog, get ready for work
630a: Have to be out of driveway and on way to work
7a: Set up classes, materials for day
725a-225p: Teach all day. 6 classes, one prep, 30 minutes for lunch
  • during day stay on top of emails
  • try to use prep period to lesson plan and grade for next week so I don't take work home
After school: prep for next day as much as possible, get anything done I can before I leave

45 minutes later: arrive home, switch gears
  • log into online class
  • grade
  • answer any questions left from day
  • walk dog
  • eat
  • asleep by 8p
  • Clear all grades for online course
  • Post weekly announcements for online course
  • Answer emails in morning
  • Aim to have online course stuff done by 12p
  • Work on #DevilDiss2 edits after lunch
  • Laundry
  • Finish any #DevilDiss2 edits not done day before, must meet chapter deadlines for each week in order to be finished by end of March
    • This weekend I need to get through CH 3
    • So I can take Part II to ACLA and get through at least CH 4
    • Our spring break starts F 25 March so I have that last week to get CH 5-6 and the conclusion done, as well as type up 400 pages of edits

I love my new job. I really like my school, the teachers I work with, and the faculty/bosses. I'm not just grateful to have a job, but I'm happy. I also really love my kids. I always loved high school teaching, and after 15 years of teaching, a lot of it comes easy to me.
But I've also thought a lot about how different my life is now. I'm certainly working hard on finishing dissertation final edits, but that will be over this month. But the life of a high school teacher and college professor are very different.
I've gotten asked whether or not I'll stay or leave. And I've told them I'm happy to stay. The college rejection letters hitting my inbox don't bother me because I can pay rent. Job Market The Sequel will be very different than this year. I would only apply for jobs that were perfect fit. In a lot of ways, it's about choosing the life I want to have. And certainly we all know that the higher ed job market is imploding. But I also have to realize that these are two very different lives.
I certainly could publish and go to conferences as a high school teacher, I did before. But if it's not required and not paid for in any way, will I choose to?
The last few weeks too have reminded me too of just how privileged a college professor's life is. Yes, there are lots of different challenges. But other than your 2-4 classes you can juggle/set your own work schedule. You can work from home. You get to work on fun things. While you scrape for funding, you also get to go to conferences.
I have 6 classes of +/- 20 students. While I don't give busy work, there's a lot more paper to grade than a college class. There are parents to call. It's not a better or worse thing, it's just an acknowledgement that they're very different lives.

My schedule now means I'm not really on social media. I don't have the time to be on Twitter. It took me three weeks to write a blog I really wanted to get out. I get home and I'm exhausted. Several times I've fallen asleep on the couch before 7p. I had forgotten how exhausting it was to teach all day, to be "on" and available. And while I'm trying to check in on Sundays when I'm editing, and because I've Storified the process, it's exhausting to try and catch up with a week of news. So I'm not really trying. I just don't have the time.
For me the gif below isn't me and my students, it's me and my extended support network on Twitter.
So that's my life now.
I know things will calm down some come April because these final edits will be into my director and done.
Then I'll have April off from #DevilDiss2.
The first week in May I have whatever last notes (hopefully small, nonexistent notes) to fix before sending the final, final draft to committee by 15 May for 17 June defense.
UNM is done 13 May.
School's out 25 May.
I'll collapse for a couple of weeks and prep for my defense.
After my defense I may hibernate for a month.

So that's my check in.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Teaching Early Shakespeare Step by Step: Weeks7-9 Broken Windows

It's been a busy few weeks in a lot of ways, but despite all the busyness, there is one thing that I just can't get out of my mind.
In law enforcement there's a theory called broken windows. It posits that if you have a house on a street that has a broken window, and you don't fix it, it signals that the neighborhood is in decline and therefore encourages an increase in crime. Suddenly the house has NO windows. And graffiti. And then good people move out and unsavory elements move in. In practice it's the idea that enforcing the small laws- litter, vandalism, drinking in public, can prevent crimes from escalating and potentially losing neighborhoods.

When there are issues in schools or on campuses, a lot of times people look back in hindsight and say this could have been caught here. Or here. If we had only intervened here. Or professor so and so and this other professor KNEW there was something wrong but they weren't willing to file the report, talk to the dean of students, take action. Now, it's easy to judge once all the facts are revealed. But it makes me think of broken windows. I think in a lot of ways the last two decades of fear of litigation have hurt us here. I think in a lot of ways we've become afraid to act for fear of litigation. Unfortunately, the consequences of things going wrong are severe.
School related shootings are a large percentage of mass shootings.

As the conversation about campus carry comes to the forefront in the news it's hard not to think about the consequences of this. Back in September a professor was killed in his office at Delta State University. Then, and now, the conversations center around what this means for those of us who teach. Do professors become afraid to hold office hours? Give poor grades? Meet with students unattended? Does a lack of consequences on small things encourage behavior to escalate?
These are all big issues and big questions and there's no easy answer. I'm not getting into an argument about how terrifying I think guns in a classroom are. Or how I worry about how this affects class and campus culture.
But it does get me thinking about related issues and how broken windows takes place in education. We often police the small things because we can't control the big things.
I can't control that my students are working and taking 21 credits. Or have families to take care of. Or can't afford books. Or don't have wifi at home. Or a computer. I can't fix gender disparity or socio-economic issues.
So class culture becomes focused on cellphones, laptops, how to take notes in class.
Just like in the police version though, it's easy for the good intentions to go awry. Broken windows has been criticized in that it disproportionately targets lower class and minority neighborhoods. That it is used as an excuse for harassment and racist behaviors. And this is all true. It's in the execution.
But I know in my neighborhood when gang tags appeared over Christmas break in the local park, most likely kids on school break who were bored, I immediately used 311 to report it. And it was gone the next day. And it hasn't returned. These things matter. And when properly used, broken windows works.
And it works in the classroom. But it can also be abused in the classroom.
I get it, these things are manageable. And I think it starts from a good place- the day to day behaviors, how to participate in meetings, how to discuss difficult things, how to learn to agree to disagree, these are valuable skills. We develop routines for teaching these behaviors, modeling. Then the routines at some point stop being about teaching skills like  listening, how to deal with technology, and deal with peers and superiors. Instead it becomes a list of ironclad rules. We forget the purpose and focus on the action. Not only that, but most good teachers will tell you that anything ironclad, that doesn't flex and change to best serve your students is not good teaching.

I've written before about how radically my teaching and classroom changed when I stopped policing things. But there are still things I struggle with that I don't know what to do with. When a student questions my right to assign an assignment, or questions the pedagogical design. Part of me wonders if they would walk up to a male professor at the end of class and tell them they don't have the right to assign something. But I also still struggle with spending 90% of my time on one student, or two, or three. In a class of sixty I can guarantee that most of the time rather than thinking of great extra resources for my 57 students I'm thinking of the three that treat me badly.
I have to remind myself every semester that while it's good that I reflect on these issues, the stress of it is not good. Nor is the inclination to redesign things for a single complaint.
There aren't easy answers to these questions. I know I've heard people bemoan "kids these days."Which always makes me think of this:
I don't believe students are better or worse than they were ten years ago or twenty or thirty. I do think that there have been cultural shifts that have resulted in changes. I think that fear of reprisals has influenced how we react to certain things, which in turn has resulted in not correcting the smaller behaviors, which leads to problems with larger ones.  But I also believe that every semester we also have a chance to influence OUR class culture. If enough of us do it. If our campuses do it, then it all can change.
But I don't think it's just the culture at large that has changed. I also think that a focus in classrooms on policing rather than teaching, on rules rather than students, has also hurt us. A few weeks ago there was a conversation on Twitter about Best Practices. That rather than being a set of things that have worked for teachers, a sharing of ideas, the concept of this worked for me, it might work for you, they've instead become a checklist. If you only do this then your classroom will work, your students will succeed. And it doesn't work that way. Too many things influence our classrooms.
I do think that sharing our ideas, approaches, and how we deal with things helps. Collectively problem solving helps.
But we have to remember that teaching is not one size fits all. We have to base our decisions on what best serves our students, our schools, our communities. And we need to talk to our students. We need to not just have these conversations with colleagues and administrators but the students we teach.  It's their class, their culture, and they should know that they have a voice, and an obligation to a certain extent.

In the movie Dangerous Minds there's a scene where a student goes to the principal to seek help, is turned away, and as a consequence dies.
Louanne Johnson You... What do you mean?
Mr. George Grandey I mean I sent him away.
Louanne Johnson  Why?
Mr. George Grandey Because he didn't knock, Miss Johnson.
Louanne Johnson Y Here we are. - Because he didn't knock?
Mr. George Grandey Yes, Miss Johnson. I'm trying to teach these children how to live in the world.

Yes, learning the day to day "learn how to live in the world" lessons are valuable. But not at the expense of other things. And I don't think it's an either or. You can correct a behavior in a way that doesn't shame a student or deny them of further help or cause them to shut down. Students are smart. They know and pick up on how we feel. And if policing is the focus in our classrooms, I can understand why students check out on the content.

The majority of students are good students. They want to learn, they want to be there. They want help. If they have an off day and snap, or get frustrated, most will change their behavior if it's pointed out to them. They're still learning.
But we also need support at the institutional level for the 1% that are a real issue, a real problem, a real concern. I'm not just talking about consequences and punishment but help. It needs to be clear in our classrooms and on our campuses that you cannot harass people. That you cannot treat professors like crap. Of course students should have recourse to deal with professors abusing authority. But more and more too I think that we need to also have policies in place that protect professors. And the TAs and adjuncts who more and more are the ones most likely to encounter these troubling situations. Campuses need to make sure that they are protecting the most vulnerable.

Campuses need to have clear guidelines and consequences for treating professors with disrespect. There need to be protections for ALL professors (tenures, lecturers, adjuncts, TAs) against harassment, or threat of harm. No one entering a classroom to teach should be afraid- of what students will do, of things they can't teach for fear of reactions. At the very least teachers should not be afraid to enter their classrooms.
With that hindsight- if students who need mental health help get it, if professors can report it, provide resources, if professors are also then protected from dangerous students, if these things are reported (Clery stats be damned) then our campuses would be safer. Our students would be safer. We would be safer and our lives would be better. Campuses should stop worrying about how bad their crime stats look and start focusing more on how their campuses got that way and how to make them better.
Last week I was talking with someone who thought the Clery Act was only for reporting sexual assault stats. It does not.
The Jeanne Clery Act, a consumer protection law passed in 1990, requires all colleges and universities who receive federal funding to share information about crime on campus and their efforts to improve campus safety as well as inform the public of crime in or around campus.

There are ways to improve our campuses, our communities, and better serve our students.
But we have to be willing to speak up. We have to file reports. We have to follow through. We cannot afford to not be bothered.  Our lives and the lives of our students depends on it.