Wednesday, November 29, 2006

famous last words

Tomorrow should be the easiest, funniest, most enjoyable teaching day of the semester. I have depth and breadth in everything I must discuss and lecture upon, and plenty of canned jokes besides.

This probably means total classroom failure, but I am an optimist.

By the by, I've had the chance to use one of my favorite lines on several occasions recently. I try hard to present historical figures in a neutral light. "Well, lemming was a sneak, a liar and a murderer" sounds dreadful, but if you add a few details, plus throw in the observation that I'm fond of my mother or encouraged the Visigoths to invent central plumbing or told Warren Harding that his Cabinet was corrupt, well, it sounds better.

One of my classes is on to me. I'll try to prevaricate, combining the positive with the negative and they'll pause. "So, lemming was a dreadful person who deserved a painful death," one of them will observe. "Well," I casually say, "I'd have phrased it more gracefully myself..." I stole this line. I claim no credit - but I do deliver it well.

(ego ego ego ego)

Still no word if my contract has been renewed for spring semester.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

and what a lovely morning!

I was surprised to discover a full classroom the morning before Thanksgiving break - surely at least a few of them would leave early for break? No. I do notice that, now that we're all back, attendance has dropped. I think they're every bit as tired as I.

Monday, November 20, 2006

seasonal music

Jason has spent the past few weeks in eager preparation for playing as much Christmas music as possible immidiately if not sooner. As long as I don't spend too much time in malls or drug stores during the next few weeks, I'll share his enthusiasm. There's a sufficient variety of seasonal music out there that, if done right, you will will hear a little bit of everything over the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

At the same time, it does seem a pity that we don't have a few traditional Thanksgiving tunes. I've been wracking my brains (too much time in the car today - 200 miles) and I've only come up with two: the university football team fight song of your choice and the hymn "We Gather Together."

I know the words (most of them) to two U fight songs, UMich and Georgia Tech. Both a nice, rousing "yay team" tunes, but neither mentions turkey or family.

"We Gather" starts out well - "We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing" OK, that's good. Then then we get "He hastens and chastens His will to make known." I've had plenty of hastening and chastening this year and am no closer to knowing His will. "The wicked oppressing" - eeek! Quickly we enter less cozy territory. Are there any seasonal tunes that are a tad more, well, positive? Thankful?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

marks on a page

I'm one of those people who writes in books - underlines critical phrases, asterisks main arguments, etc. It's pretty much impossible to get through graduate school without adopting some sort of marking up habits and after you start grading papers and exams, well, the compulsion to comment on everything written becomes hard to overcome. I loved my 19th century British Lit class in college, but I never would have gotten through Vanity Fair (which I loved!) without notes to myself as to what on earth all of those obscure words and phrases meant. (Probably less obscure 100 years ago, or had I been older, but no matter.)

I also tend to mark up textbooks these days, if only to help myself remember what it is that I want the class to discuss next week. One of the books I'm using at the moment (not of my selection) has downright beautiful illustrations even if the authors deserve to be taken out back and beaten with my old copy of Vanity Fair for their appalling prose and lack of detailed explanation of major points.

Last night I think I committed an unforgiveable sin - I started doodling and drawing pictures in the margins, filling up every available milimeter of space with squiggles and inter-connected triangles. This did nothing to inhence my unedrstanding of the authors' intentions or improve my teaching, but it did make the time go more quickly.

Monday, November 13, 2006

of animals with tails

I don't know a great deal about squirrels, and most of what I do know is as a result of watching Sam chase them. He's spent a busy afternoon stalking them around the back yard. I am convinced that they laugh behind their paws as they scamper toward acorns and away from him.

Lots of squirrels live in the neighborhood trees - I haven't personally counted all of them, though I'm sure Sam has. Most are ordinary looking, but one is unusually small, not much bigger than a mouse. For a long time I thought I must be imagining, that it was just a chipmunk with long fur. Following further conversation with neighbors, I've learned that several of us have seen it and all assumed that we were hallucinating, etc. Right now it's perched outside my window, staring at me (and, presumably, Sam) in a manner best descrbed as saucy.

At least I know it's for real!

Friday, November 10, 2006

no Cassandra am I

rarely have I been so pleased about being wrong.

I still stand by the Whig Party comparison - all right, you're the opposition, now what will you do with it?

I should hear in the next two weeks as to whether or not my evaluation went well. One of my adjunct gigs is mine for life, pretty much, but I'd like ot keep the other as well.

Meanwhile Sam is chasing squirrels.

Monday, November 06, 2006

a prediction

The Republicans will retain control of both the House and the Senate.

I base this prognostication upon the BBC reports. In 2004, the BBC reporteres were confident that John Kerry would win. Now they are confident that Congress will enter the hands of the Democrats.

As the Whig party found out in the 19th century, a platform which consists of "I am opposed to the party in power" just isn't enough.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

I was wondering what the "eek" could be about, and then it occurred to me: you hate to be embarrassed by your department chair getting down on the floor, hugging your ankles, smooching your feet, and crying over and over, "We're not worthy! We're not worthy!"

Oh, Bartleby, would that such were possible!

The chair is one of the nicest people I've met in a long time and word through the grapevine is that while he won't be casual or perfunctory in his evaluation, I shouldn't lose sleep over it.

At the same time, said chair is best described as "inscrutable." In other words, he's hard to read. Therein lies the source of my neurosis. Naturally, he has opted to attend the class about which I am least confident. On the other hand, the students (to my astonishment and delight) do seem to not only pay attention, but to retain the material, sometimes better than I.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

a trade secret

I'll let you in on a trade secret: when teachers write an exam, thwy do it with two important factors in mind. First, does the test fairly examine what the students learned (or ought to have learned) from that particualr section of the course? Second (and nearly as important) which topics, personalities, etc, can I stand to read about over and over and over and over in a fairly short period of time?

There's one in the pipeline at the moment. My students have, with less and less subtlety, been trying to weasel hints out of me. Do you suppose this was enough of a hint?