Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Word is "Vulnerable"

It is the cold time.

When I think on Keeling from here in my life that has run from poverty past sufficient to plenty, I think of summers, with blackberries found on spider-ridden brambles or of trees that harbor all manner of insects but usually something outstanding like locusts that shed their skins when they grow out of their previous selves.

Sometimes it is spring that I snatch from my brain's long thing gray lines of axons and dendrites--cobwebby and spidery at the same time. If spring, it is buttercups--single, doubles and scrambled egg ones--that my grandmother Tommie says were spread down Hwy 70 when the state put the road in across the front of her daddy's land, taking their front yard and its many drifts of bulbs and redistributing it for miles. Years later, buttercups lined the road a ways down where I lived in a house trailer on family land.

I rarely think of cold times. Funny how I can think of the many fireplaces and wood stoves, another favorite recall, without drawing a line to the chill air that drives us to them. But wood stoves were also for cooking, and I usually prefer to jump that particular synapse, which leads inevitably to strong coffee in a tin pot, biscuits, and the safe, gentle woodsmoke smell of Granddaddy.

If I took the other path at the memory junction of cold times, it would lead to electric heaters that must be kept clear of all paper and cloth so they won't send the trailer up in flames. I learned, when our neighbor lost his, that a trailer home is the most efficient incinerator outside of a crematorium. All heat and combustion is directed inside, with only the exploded windows to leak out any flames. And they are too busy respirating the whole conflagration. Hungry fire sucks and sucks oxygen. Everything inside the metal walls is dust by time the volunteer truck arrives. Walls melt. Only the iron undercarriage lasts, and it's a warped mess.

Or I think of the electric stove, which my mama would turn on and leave its door ajar to add a little warmth to the kitchen where breath could be seen. The light bill will be high, but I cain't help it. We cain't freeze. We didn't freeze. We shivered. The water line froze, though. Lots of times. Once, on a rare time when my daddy was around, he came to thaw the pipes while mother worked and we were at school. He managed to set light to the bottom of the trailer while using a blow torch to warm the lines that came up under the bathroom. Didn't burn much. Just left a mouse-sized hole after he patched it up. Jack of all trades; master of none. At least I could finally wash my hair, even if it meant goose bumps.

Summer means vegetable gardens and neighbors who lets you pick corn.

Winter means burning up precious calories staying warm.

Summer is up a tree; winter is under the covers all day.


When Adrian and I moved back to Germany the last time, the oil furnace of the base housing row house put out so much heat it stifled me. Adrian was fine. Ariane had never known want. I gasped and woke up with warm hands on my lungs, pressing out the air. We learned to leave a window open near the head of the bed on my side. Drafts of icy air slid down my throat, pinked my nose, prickled my ears. That's more like it.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

10 Hate Crimes Against Students

The blogger at The Other Class created a list of Top Ten Hate Crimes Against Professors, "things students do that constitute hate crimes (because we hate it)." I'm at that midway point where I have finished my MA but am not teaching. I feel the need to clarify now, before I change sides, the hate crimes against students, things professors do that constitute hate crimes (because we hate them).

1. Holding yourself and your knowledge in such esteem that you can't admit your humanity. -- You make mistakes. [Like that pronoun disagreement in the quoted sentence.] Professors cannot hold all knowledge. The vast majority of my professors freely admit when they don't know something. But there are those, and their pompous pictures are popping up in your head right now, who will prevaricate, pontificate, postulate, and puff rather than say, "I don't know that" or "I can't recall right now." It makes you untrustworthy. We know the difference between not being prepared for what you are teaching now and not remembering every character from every book you have ever read.

2. Syllabus proofreading crimes -- You cut and pasted that from another semester, didn't you? And now, since it says in section two of your syllabus not to ask you questions in email about things on the syllabus, we don't want to email you and ask whether you want papers turned in "ONLY in class," as it says in section four, or if you want them in the dropbox on Blackboard, like it says in section six, or, and hand to God this happened, if you want them turned in to your office two days before class. My very favorite professor called himself "calendar challenged." He took to sending his syllabus to me for proofreading before publishing. He was not a puffy postulator.

3. Instructions vs. Syllabus War-- If your syllabus says Paper Number Two is due on March 5 at 4pm, please tell me why the instruction guide for Paper Number Two insists that it is due at class time on March 2. This could be why you get emails at 8pm on March 1.

4. Allowing students to flaunt rules. -- Your syllabus says that tardiness is a serious problem and that it is disrespectful. That one girl is late to class every day. Seriously? Once or twice is bad enough. If she is late every day, you are losing your standing as the leader of this band of merry scholars. We talk about this outside of class and, believe me, students hate it when someone gets away with murder. If you really don't want students texting, make that clear, state the consequences, and then toss him out of class when he texts. How about this? Phones Off, On the Table, Screen Down, Hands Off.

5. Changing the syllabus -- every week. We know that things get messy during the semester. We also know the difference between shifting things around to meet educational needs and you not having a handle on what is happening in your class. I know of at least one professor who has a hard time filling up a class because every student says that she cannot ever produce a syllabus that works. Often, she wouldn't have a syllabus at all. It makes us insane to never know what is going on with due dates and expectations. We have lives and jobs and children.

6. Giving an extension on a paper because some people didn't do the work, or worse, to build in a little extra time. This may just be a personal peeve. Other students seem thrilled to know that the paper due today will not really, really be due until next week. However, today means today for me. I didn't go with my daughter to a play on Friday night. I skipped my husband's award dinner last week. I did those things because our contract said that I had to turn in twenty-five thoughtful pages today. So, instead of relief, I am just pissed that you "built in a little extra time" by publishing the due date a week ahead. Let today mean today. You are not helping the slackers learn to wake up by changing the alarm clock.

7. Germs: Errors of Omission and Errors of Commission -- We all know it. School is a breeding ground for sickness. I don't want to be in class with a cougher. I don't want to be in class while sick. Understand that when you say our grades will drop one letter grade -- "no exceptions" -- for more that two absences, you have just herded sick people into your class. This is a tricky line to walk. You want students in class. You want sick students at home. Why not address sickness and absences together in the same paragraph of the syllabus. Let the conscientious student know that there is wiggle room. Encourage them to contact you in case of contagion. I have heard this many times from a red-eyed sniffler: "I feel awful, but I can't afford to lose a letter grade."

8. Ambiguously worded questions on a test. -- One of the best things about going into grad school studying English is that I never took another test written by someone who is not a competent writer. Questions should not be so "ambiguous, misleading, or poorly worded" that the student wonders if she is playing the quiz on Michael Feldman's Whad'Ya Know? show.  I had one religion professor so adept at writing questions that could be answered several ways that I was forced to rewrite them in the margins so that I could show which one I was answering.

9. Technophobic Professors -- We are studying in 2013. Know how to use a computer to produce study materials.  Be able to produce a graphic to support your lectures. Know how to use the basic features of your college's course interface or learning portal. Embrace digital media learning. Post messages. Update the syllabus. Put all handouts online where your forgetful or absent students can find them. Enter names into the class roster online. Encourage students to interact online by making sure they can contact each other to ask those questions you don't want coming to you in email.

10. Not showing up or being late for office hours (or class -- yes, this happened). -- No meeting is that important. Post office hours on the door so that students without a smart phone don't have to run to the library to check the syllabus. Send out an email and post on the course interface immediately, if you are sick or late. More than once, I drove to campus only to find a cancellation note on the class door. More than once, the technophobic professor knew she wouldn't be in class early enough to have prevented my hour-long trip in heavy traffic.