Saturday, September 30, 2006

Better than movie day

As an undergrad, I loved "movie day" in a class; who didn't? The class got to see and do something out of the usual routine. Students still like "movie day." That doesn't mean they're slackers. It just means that a change is as good as a rest. I don't show a lot of videos in class, but there are some times when it just plain works better than more readings or more explanations from me (for example, if you're reading novels about a manufacturing process or Moby-Dick).

Even better than a movie day for breaking up the mid-semester slump--which I haven't yet seen but might be on its way--is a class in which there's a guest lecturer or student reports. A friend of mine used to refer to these as days on which you could "put your feet up and relax." Of course, I still listen, take notes, and so on. But it's a day on which someone else is primarily responsible for keeping the class going, presenting information, and asking questions. It's good for students to hear someone else's voice and respond to someone else's questions.

Last week I had a day like that: a grad student taught a portion of the work we're reading. She did a good job, and class got to hear someone else's voice, figuratively as well as literally. Since I was sitting in their midst and apparently thus rendered invisible, when she had them do group work, I was able to hear how they were talking about the work.

So: working but in a way not working. Seeing and hearing something different. It's not only better than a movie day; it's almost as good as a snow day.

Friday, September 22, 2006

It is a truth universally acknowledged . . .

  • that if you have, say, two standing meetings, neither of these will be held on the days that you teach, nor will they be held on the same day so that you can go to campus and get them both over with at once.
  • that if you have office hours from 12-1:30, and your office has thus far been so quiet that you can hear crickets chirp, on the one day when you step out for five minutes to get a sandwich for lunch, a student will come by, find you gone, and write you an email about it.
  • that if after a diligent search for a book in your library catalog, you give up and decide to order it, you will receive a note (sometimes an indignant note) from Acquisitions pointing out that it's in the library even if it isn't in the catalogue.
  • that the one student who has been missing in action from class is the only one for whom you, and apparently the university, have no email address whatsoever.
  • that if the day dawns gray and rainy, and you put on a sweater because it's 45 degrees outside, the weather will turn warm and sunny so that you look like a refugee from December, stuck in the wrong time. This one I don't mind, if it means good weather.
  • Tuesday, September 19, 2006

    A car & driver illusion shattered

    Well, maybe not shattered. Maybe slightly dented.

    Driving up the road to campus today, I saw another Prius. They're not too common around here; I see maybe one other one a day.

    As I turned onto campus, I saw a student starting to cross at the crosswalk and stopped. The other Prius zipped right by us on the right. Since the students have sensibly concluded that it's rare for cars to stop, even though they're supposed to, the student of course slowed down and wasn't injured.

    But still. According to PriusChat, all Prius drivers are brave, loyal, trustworthy, cheerful, thrifty, reverent, obedient and the rest, and when they're not bragging about their gas mileage (their only vice), they're out saving the whales.

    Monday, September 18, 2006

    The Literary Post Office

    This wasn't a conversation I had expected to have at the post office today, but it's a nice one to report. After dropping off a package to be mailed, I asked for some stamps.

    Me: "The Katherine Anne Porter ones, please."
    PO counter man: "Have you read any of her work?"
    Me: "Yes, lots."
    PO counter man: "She mostly wrote short stories, didn't she?"
    Me: "Yes, and a novel--Ship of Fools. It took her twenty years."
    PO counter man: "Really? She wrote Ship of Fools, eh? That'll be $7.80."

    Nice to know we have a literary as well as literate post office.

    Sunday, September 17, 2006

    A different PSA about the MLA Job List

    Flavia posted a PSA the other day announcing that the MLA Job Information List is now online. Like Flavia, I kept up a sporting interest in looking at the list even after I had a job (and tenure), but that changed after serving on (and on occasion chairing) search committees.

    I have a PSA of my own; it's basically a few pleas for job seekers based on experiences past and current. (BTW, this post is a snark-free zone, unlike some others I've posted.)

  • Please do think about whether you're really interested in the institution and the general area of the country before you apply. If you're not really interested, don't apply. For example, if you get an interview and end up asking questions that basically ask how often/how much you can stay away from the institution/the area, we know that we've pretty much wasted our time and interview money on someone who doesn't want to be there.

  • Ditto if you tell us that your advisor thinks this would be a good "first job."

  • If the ad specifies a specialist in Subject Y, and you taught one course in Subject Y back in grad school but your major area and dissertation are in another field, please think twice before applying and trying to spin this into a major area for you. We'll figure this out in any case when we read your materials.

  • Proofread your cover letters carefully. Concluding with some variation of "and that's why I'm a perfect candidate for [Not Your Institution]" doesn't inspire much confidence.

  • If your research is exciting to you, and teaching is exciting to you, make sure that that comes across. You don't have to jump on a couch, but if you want to spend your life doing these two things (teaching and research), the search committee, and later the interviewers from the committee, ought to be able to figure out why it's exciting, what the possible research implications might be for the field, and so on.

  • This gets said over and over again, but try to personalize your letter for the institution to which you're applying. Printing out a boilerplate letter is faster than tailoring one to the job, but reading the same phrases in densely printed boilerplate about dissertation, teaching philosophy, and so on, especially in the increasingly long letters that we get, is a MEGO moment (my eyes glaze over).

  • technorati tag:

    Monday, September 11, 2006

    A little silence

    (Sorry--I had to take down the last post but will post again soon.)

    Saturday, September 02, 2006

    Teaching Carnival 11

    Check out the Teaching Carnival by George at Wordherders. You won't be sorry.

    The library: an enemy to books?

    From the Chronicle about Harold B. Schleifer, Dean of Libraries at Cal State Polytechnic in Pomona. This is the kind of thinking that I fear:

    After getting an estimate of $240,000 to move and store up to 200,000 books, of the library's collection of about 700,000, Mr. Schleifer proposed to trim that figure by $80,000 by asking his staff to find 70,000 or more books the library could throw out. If a book hadn't been checked out in a decade, and if copies were available at nearby libraries, or if it was damaged, it could be pitched. (my emphasis).

    The librarians were disturbed enough to write a strongly worded memorandum to Mr. Schleifer. The collection-management staff called the idea of discarding more than 70,000 books to save $80,000 "penny-wise but pound-foolish" and "antithetical to our professional values."

    "If the decision is made to discard books at this level we will not be able to help you explain the decision to the campus community," the librarians wrote.


    I know that the library's mission is changing toward digital media, and maybe that's all right for public libraries (though I really don't think so). But for a university library?

    What about the faculty members who need the books, even if "they haven't been checked out in ten years"? I'd estimate that roughly a quarter of the books I check out haven't been checked out in twenty to forty years. (I've even been known to check out a few extra old books just to keep the library from exactly this sort of misguided lunacy.) That doesn't mean that they are useless books. It means that just maybe, they're books that need to be recovered or rediscovered; they're books that shed light on classics or are classics themselves. They're books that we'll never discover if the library, following current trends, decides that more coffee shops and computers are the answer to users' needs.

    What about students who'll never know about these books or see them, if they're gone or at a nearby library?

    And what counts as a "nearby library," anyway? Many students don't have cars; those that have enough interest to go down into compressed stacks to look for books may not have the transportation or the interest to go to a nearby library. The "order it and get it 24 hours later" model of keeping materials off-site may be necessary sometimes, but it's a pain in the neck and definitely a second-best choice regardless of whatever "strategic plan" rhetoric tries to justify it. Also, many libraries charge students for Interlibrary Loan materials (mine does: $2). Do we really want to put MORE impediments in the way of students having access to materials?

    What about serendipity--finding something you'd never find if you weren't physically in the stacks looking for something? Sometimes you copy a journal article and discover some related materials that never come up in even the most careful database search. Also, it's sometimes faster to copy something or even skim through it on paper than to wait for those hefty .pdf files from JSTOR.

    And about those digital resources? Guess what--they can, and do, go away. Library budgets get sliced all the time, and there's no guarantee that the archive that exists this week will be available a year from now. It's the same process: someone in administration decides that you don't need it, and so it's cut. Also, although I'm a huge fan of online resources, they aren't perfect. Sometimes the links don't work, or the journal isn't available as advertised. Or, as happened to me this summer when using microfilm, pages are just plain missing. It's clear that UMI is probably never going to go back and re-microfilm the last few missing pages of a newspaper issue from 1910. (This is apparently not a unique problem.) That's now the record of that publication, and if it's a flawed record, I guess we're supposed to say "so what?"

    The heroes in all this are the librarians who wrote the "strongly worded memorandum" to Dean Schleifer. I'd like to raise a virtual toast to you all.

    [Update (from the comments):

    thought you might appreciate another update. I have an online petition up and running and have been using my lunch hour to give out information to students here at Cal Poly on the book dumping situation. Yesterday the campus police questioned me and about my activities.


    go to the website to sign the Save Our Books petition ]