A Rumination on My Daughter Changing Classes

I have a daughter who is, as I write this, enrolled in a preschool program in my hometown. She recently got promoted within it, moving up from one class to another (insofar as a preschool has classes–but I may well be ungenerous in making such an aside), starting with a new teacher after having many good months with one whom my wife and I respect and whom my daughter flatly loves. But it wasn’t until we got her home on her last day in the old class that she realized she’d not be with that teacher anymore; she cried, and I nearly did so alongside her. Even as I write this, I feel myself tearing up as I think about her doing so–and I’m not given to weeping.

One of the buildings at the preschool program.
Image taken from www.achildsplacelc.com.

I have confidence in the teacher with whom my daughter is now enrolled, but I have great respect for the one who worked with her these past months; my daughter has grown much under her tutelage, and I am pleased to see it happen. Her sadness at leaving makes sense to me–I have felt similar things in the past–and I have worked to help her be happy again, to look forward with hope and anticipation to new challenges and experiences. How well it has worked, though, I do not know, for I know that my daughter sees much in me that I would not reveal, and I know that I find it a bit strange to have such feelings about teachers as my daughter seems to have had about the one she recently left.

Altogether, I spent 24 years enrolled in formal schooling, and I’ve worked partly or mainly in education since 2006. Much of my life has been spent in the classroom, and many or most of my memories concern it. There are some instructors I remember fondly, certainly, although I am not in contact with them as much as I perhaps ought to be; there are more, though, on whom I look back with much less joy. In neither case do I recall being particularly sad about moving on from one to another, although I will admit that my memory for such things is not as good as it is for other things entirely, nor have I looked back over the journals I have tried to keep for notes about it. To see my daughter emote about such, then, seems a strange thing to me.

In all honesty, she often presents me with strangeness. She looks on the same world I do, but her view of it is unlike mine. There is enough similarity of perspective that she can communicate it to me, of course; she is my daughter, and I work to be active in her life, and we partake of some of the same loves. But there is much that is different, too, and not only in those parts of her that come from her mother; every day, it seems, she shows us something for which we had not thought or known to look and which we realize upon the seeing that we had needed. Perhaps I needed to see such joy reflected by her tears and to feel my own well up alongside them, an offering poured out to mourn I know not what.

Help me keep my girl enrolled?

Class Report: ENGL 062, 30 August 2018

Discussion was meant to address questions from the previous week and earlier before turning to summative thoughts about the course. Time to complete the assignment for the concluding week of the course was to have been offered.

Class is reminded of the upcoming assignment:

  • Homework: Reflective and Planning Postscript, due online as a Word document in APA format before the end of 1 September 2018

The session closes at the end of the day on Saturday, so all work must be submitted by then to be counted.

The class roster listed one student enrolled, unchanged from last week. None attended, assessed informally. No student attended the most recent office hour.

On Continuing to Leave Academe

A fair number of the posts I make in this webspace concern my somewhat conflicted departure from academic life. My various responses to Erin Bartram (here, here, and here), my reflections on my expatriate status, certain of my bits about my office spaces (this and this come to mind), and a couple indulgences of nostalgia (here and here), among others, speak more or less openly about facets of my departure from a line of work and career path for which I had imagined destined. At the same time, posts such as my continuing “Initial Comments” pieces (of which the most recent is here), my class reports (which I’ll not link at the moment), and others bespeak my continuing engagement with and immersion in the structures of formalized higher education. (That I do so much to make references in my writing also marks me as a trained academic, I know; who else but a professor or a wanna-be prof would make so many notes in a single sentence?)

To be fair, I do miss facilities like this one.
Image from the University of Texas at San Antonio website–
and I am an alumnus of the institution.

Clearly, then, I have not made a clean break with my former life, even if I have (largely) reconciled myself to the notion that I’ll never be a full-time scholar. Instead, I maintain a part-time contingent position at DeVry University in San Antonio,Note and I keep in mind the notion that I might pick up the occasional class at another school (though that does not seem likely in the near future or a more remote time). And while I do not give to that position the kind of fervor that I gave to similarly contingent positions in the past, I do still pursue it diligently, spending time and effort in preparing lessons and coaching students along; I still treat it like a job I mean to do well, if less because of a commitment to the profession than because of a commitment to well those things that I set out to do, whatever they may be. The effect is similar; I do more than I probably ought to do for my students.

Most, however, will note that it is not the work done in the classroom that makes a person an academic. Indeed, there is an unfortunately prevailing animus against the work of teaching and those who pursue it as their primary avocation; in addition to Shaw’s adage, there is too much disregard in higher ed for the work of those who teach younger students, and the promotion and retention of scholars is far more reliant on what happens outside the classroom than within it. But even in such areas, I seem to be holding on to an academic identity; I retain affiliation with several scholarly societies, participate in academic conferences, and, in at least some small ways, try to contribute to intellectual discourse. And it is not just in this webspace that I (flatter myself that I) do so; I still send off to journals and presses, hoping that I’ll find my way into print and others will use what I have done.

And there is one other thing: I never do enough. One of the things that academe traditionally inculcates into people, particularly “good” students, is a sense of insufficiency. There is always someone smarter, always someone doing more and doing it better; there is always more to be done. That sense lingers with me yet, despite my working one full-time and several part-time jobs and writing here and elsewhere (here and here, among others) and attending to the domestic and emotional needs of my family. If there is one part of academic life that will linger with me, I think that will be it; it seems to be among the few things that translates well into the “real” world.

Note: I acknowledge that there are critiques to be levied at my employment by a for-profit institution. I may well address them in another post to this webspace; for now, they would be a bit of a distraction. Return to text.

Care to support my work? I’d really appreciate it!

Yet another Office Piece

Several of the pieces I’ve written in this webspace (this, this, this, this, and this), as well as at least one in another, have focused on offices I’ve inhabited. Even before writing the most recent one, I had taken up a position in another office entirely, one in which I remain (along with the home office I still prize and the now-shifted cubicle where I still teach). It occurs to me that I have not discussed it, and I need to rectify that lapse before matters shift once again and I have to try to write about my spaces from a memory that I am noticing does not work quite as well as I remember it having done. (If I do. I’m not sure I can be sure.)

From the view upon coming in.
The picture is mine. So is the desk.

That office is the one I occupy in my day job at an outpatient substance abuse treatment center in the Texas Hill Country. It is, in effect, a corner of the front lobby, from which I manage the building’s schedules, answer phones, receive and process paperwork, greet clients, take their information and their money, and do the myriad other things that my position as an administrative assistant obliges me to do. It is open to the rest of the room, certainly, and so it compels me to interact with those who come in the door at the facility, as well as those who call in and who fax (yes, we still get faxes). Email to the facility usually comes through my spot in the office, as well, and I end up as a point of contact among the other employees at the facility.

The station is different from most of the offices I’ve had, certainly most of those in academe. In them, I had and have at least the illusion of privacy; I’ve generally been in office pools or cubicles, so there have been things to obstruct view of me from the door–when I’ve not (as was the case a few times prior to the home office) had a door of my own to close. In my current position, I greet those who come in the door; they can see me as soon as they open it, and I them. It does change the nature of the work I can do; academic work tends to encourage and reward isolation and removal, and neither is available to me where I am now.

Then again, I have a home office, and I work from it. I also have a steady day job that pays decently and offers benefits, and I am grateful for it. And when the work day is slow and the lobby empty, when the phone is not ringing and my inbox is not dinging, I still have the opportunity to put a few words together or take a picture or two. In all, then, my current office space is not a bad one–though I would be lying were I to say I didn’t look forward to having another.

I’d also be lying to say I can’t use some help.

Class Report: ENGL 062, 23 August 2018

After addressing questions from the previous week and earlier, class turned to workshopping student work in advance of the second draft of the final essay being due. Student questions were addressed as they arose.

Students are reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (three posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 27 August 2018
  • Homework: Essay 2, Graded Draft, due online as a Word document in APA format before 0059 on 27 August 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Reading Textbooks Topic and Post-Test, due online before 0059 on 20 August 2018
  • One selection from My Reading Lab: Next Reading (in the Reading Level part of My Reading Lab; requires the Lexile Locator [which will be unscored]), due online before 0059 on 20 August 2018

The class roster listed but one student enrolled, a decline of one from last week. The student attended and participated well. No student attended the most recent office hour.

In Response to Jason Furman

On 2 August 2018, Jason Furman’s “Work Requirements Hurt Poor Families—and Won’t Work” appeared in the online Wall Street Journal. In the article, Furman notes the current sociopolitical forces that prompt attention to continued unemployment and asserts that proposals to increase work requirements for government benefits such as food stamps are likely to be counterproductive. He goes on to offer context for the food stamp program and its recipients before noting specific problems with increases in work requirements. Kentucky’s pending motions toward such increases serve as a case study for such problems; the National Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies is also referenced as pointing out that work requirements are ineffective. Effective solutions to the current problem of lingering unemployment are then noted, and a statement of need precedes a closing return to Furman’s thesis.

Some things about the article attract attention. The stated status of the author is one. While no few former presidential advisors assume academic positions, Furman’s reported title of “professor of practice” seems somewhat odd. Most such positions I’ve seen are somewhat glorified adjunct roles, offering nominal dignity (much like the visiting professorships I’ve had and hold) and an affiliation, but little if any institutional power and far less security than an unadorned–thus, “more important”–professorship. Admittedly, given his earlier White House role, Furman is not likely to need a “more powerful” academic job, but it still seems unusual for him to have so relatively minor a post (and the relative nature of it matters, to be sure).

Unusual, too, is the suggestion, even if one “not ready to become law today,” of federal employment. There are ways in which employment by the state to draw support from the state is a sensible idea; if it is assumed that people should work to be able to live, and if a government actually believes that people should be able to live, then governmental work programs ought necessarily to follow. And the results of such programs can still be seen. For example, in that long-ago time when I did my student teaching, I did so in a building built by the FDR-era Civilian Conservation Corps; it is a beautiful building, richly detailed if not maintained so well as it deserves, and still teaches no few students. Other such edifices are ready to be found, still standing proudly after so many years–and if such things might not be built again, there are still roads that need fixing and bridges, and the things put up by past generations could be made strong and whole again.

But that the idea might be good does not mean that it is the way to address the issue towards which it might well be directed. For the idea that those who cannot find work should be penalized for the unwillingness of employers to hire them is ludicrous–and it is not necessarily dependent on the qualifications of those not in reliable work. I spent quite a while looking for work, sending out applications and resumes by the score, looking for work in entry-level and other jobs (about which more here), and I could not get hired. I hold a terminal degree; I am eminently qualified to do any number of jobs, and I am not too proud to do them, and I could not get hired. Is it any surprise that those less credentialed would struggle with something entirely beyond their control? Should they then be punished for it? Is not the simple fact of being poor in the United States rebuke enough?

Care to help reduce my work requirement?

Initial Comments for the September 2018 Session at DeVry University in San Antonio

I have been offered a section of ENGL 135: Advanced Composition for the September 2018 session at DeVry University in San Antonio–and I’ve signed my contract for it. The course will run from 2 September through 27 October 2018, and it will meet wholly online. I admit to preferring hybrid or on-site courses to fully online work, but I also admit to preferring having income to not, so I was pleased to accept the course.

Ah, to see such a thing…
The image comes from DeVry University. It seems to fit, given the topic here.

I note, also, that there have been some adjustments to the assignment sequence in the course. As such, I’ll need to adjust my teaching materials somewhat from those I’ve been using for the past couple of years. It’s not a bad thing; updates need to happen as more research is done into what best practices are (even if that research tends to focus on traditional undergraduates, who are not the students DeVry tends to teach), and there were things in the previous assignment sequences that flatly did not work well.

Whether or not I assign a topic for consideration is still undetermined. I did not have great success with it the last time I did so, as I believe I noted. My concerns about it remain in place–the more so with a wholly online class, where students are typically even more pressured to cleave to assignments as prescribed and less inclined to range out from their expectations. (It’s not my first wholly online course, and my own mother completed a wholly online degree. I’ll admit my experience is limited, but it is still what I have to work with.) If I do, I do not think I will restrict myself to the previously assigned topic; again, few of the students I taught felt as if they could meaningfully address it. (I wonder if it derives from their having been underserved by their previous academic experiences.) Perhaps if I prescribe a topic, I will work with humor once again–although the circumstances of the class are not such as admit of jocularity easily.

In any event, I have it to do one more time, at least. Even if I do confine myself to the “standard” offerings this time around–and I might, that I might better negotiate the changes to the course sequence since the last time I taught it–I will be glad to have the opportunity to work with students yet again, hopefully to help them move beyond the idea of research as compiling and reporting information only and into the notion of research being the revelation or creation of new knowledge. Students in first-year writing classes do not necessarily often make such breakthroughs, but when they do, it is quite a joy to see; every time I am able to help it happen, I am pleased with myself.

Every time it happens, whether I am responsible for it or not, the world is that much better off than it was before. And more of that needs to happen.

Class Report: ENGL 062, 16 August 2018

Class was intended to address questions from the previous class meeting and before and turn to organizational patterns before briefly treating some concerns of paratext. Instructor absence prevented that, however. Instructional materials, including an attendance-equivalent, were sent to students.

Students are reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (three posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 20 August 2018
  • Homework: Essay 2, First Draft, due online as a Word document in APA format before 0059 on 20 August 2018
  • My Reading Lab: Patterns of Organization and Inference Topics and Post-Tests, both due online before 0059 on 20 August 2018
  • One selection from My Reading Lab: Next Reading (in the Reading Level part of My Reading Lab; requires the Lexile Locator [which will be unscored]), due online before 0059 on 20 August 2018

The class roster listed two students enrolled, unchanged from last week. No students attended the most recent office hour.

A Rumination on the Blog Itself

I‘ve noticed recently that my blog has been attracting more attention. Since close to the end of July, there’s been an upswelling of interest in what I write here, which I appreciate greatly. To illustrate, the week of 15 July 2018, which was a typical week for my blog in the time since I stopped trying to be a full-time academic, saw an average of six or so views a day from five or so visitors–and had days of no readership. The following week, however, saw an average of more than 45 daily views from more than 43 viewers, increases of 727% and 839% over the previous week, respectively. The most recent week, beginning 29 July 2018, saw an average of more than 66 views per day from 65 viewers, another 145% and 151% respective increase from the previous week.

Recent Blog Performance 20180805
You can guess when I wrote this, I suppose.
Image taken from the readouts WordPress gives me about my blog.

Again, and this needs to be emphasized, I greatly appreciate the interest in my work. I write here for others to read, and seeing that others do read what I write warms my cockles. It is because I want them to continue to do so that I find myself asking why it is so, what I have done that has prompted the renewed attention to my blog.

That most of the views I’m seeing reported are for assignment guidelines I’ve posted–which seems to be the case–suggests that my assignments are being used as models. Whether it is for instructors giving their own assignments or for the teaching of instructors about how to design them–and, in the latter case, whether as positive or negative examples–is less clear. I understandably hope it is one of the first two rather than the third, though if I have made enough of a name for myself that I have become an anti-role-model, I can comfort myself with the idea that no publicity is bad publicity. I have a long history of playing villains, after all, as those who have known me can attest.

The problem, of course, is that I am no longer in a position where I have leave to write my own assignments, not even so much as in the managed situation at the end of my time at Oklahoma State University. As such, I’ll not have much more of such material to contribute as has been receiving attention, though I am sure I could come up with some kind of assignment sequence that might be used, something not necessarily grounded in any one school’s programmatic requirements. Indeed, I recall a CCC article that proposes a writing studies curriculum; it might make sense to design assignments to suit it, and then to do something similar for the kinds of literature classes I would teach, had I but world enough and time–and opportunity, unlikely as I know it to be.

In any event, I can hope that attention to some of my materials will prompt attention to more of them, and I hope to be able to produce more that people enjoy reading or find useful to have at hand. I’m not intending on giving up anytime soon, and I am thankful for having had the readership and support I have had to this point. I look forward to yet more.

Your patronage is appreciated!


In another Response to Eric Weiskott

On 30 July 2018, Eric Weiskott’s “The New Moralists” appeared online in Medium. In the article, Weiskott explicates the Rent Relief Act proposed by several Democratic US Senators and critiques it as a reflection of medieval three-estates ideology. After describing and offering a response to the proposed law (one that does not wholly endorse it), Weiskott notes the parallel to medieval social standards, using Piers Plowman as his example of medieval understandings of desired social dynamics. He points out that explicit or implicit work requirements for supportive programs are prevalent across centuries, although he notes that the author of Piers Plowman is, at least, more reflective than the 21st-century legislators that (unintentionally) echo him. After expressing the thought of supporting people regardless of work status, Weiskott concludes with the note that Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, who promotes such a position, won out over the proponent of a parallel to the Rent Relief Act.

One of the more notable depictions,
from MS Sloane 2435
and on the covers of many textbooks.
I’m told it’s a public domain image.

I’ve expressed my appreciation for Weiskott before, and some of what I’ve noted is applicable now. Weiskott remains a pleasure to read. Too, I’m happy to see another medievalist making comments accessible to a broad public, and I’m happy to see medieval literature being used to make a case relevant to current circumstances. Further, it’s always good to see the medievals presented as something other than the filthy idiots they are too commonly held to be–or those of us living now as uniformly more enlightened than they were. (There are ways, sure, but there are many things we retain, and there are some in which we may well be surpassed.) Too, I am glad to see the political comments made; I am not a proponent of the idea that the work scholars do is or should be apolitical. And for medieval studies to engage with such issues in the current cultural moment is particularly important, given some of the asinine shenanigans in which some are trying to employ it.

Related image
Not that three-estate life seems to have been good in any time.
Image borrowed from http://parismuseescollections.paris.fr/en/node/111064#infos-principales.
My French is not good enough to let me read the related text.

There is something potentially troubling about what Weiskott points out, though. If the idea behind the Rent Relief Act is one that echoes and repeats a kind of feudal ideology on display in Piers Plowman, it is one that bespeaks a continued slide towards a broader and more prevalent feudalistic social structure. The robber barons of the twentieth century were not afforded the elemental French feudal title idly. Their counterparts in the early twenty-first might well be so styled as they accumulate wealth and influence, and the access to and command of resources they embody, while more people grow increasingly poor. And I know that I, as well as most of the people I know, are more likely to be in what reflects the traditional third estate than either the first or the second. (The traditional second, those who fight, are increasingly those who work, as well. What god commands those who pray is open to interpretation. I acknowledge that the echo is not without garbling.) This is not Weiskott’s fault, of course, and it needs pointing out–but that does not make it not a sad thing to see…

Virtuous alms?