31 July 2008

Work and Family and Work

It's 1 AM and I've just finished typing out one-half of a two-part chapter. The other half is probably 2/3 done, but it's that last third that's going to kill me. It's been a rough, rough week. There's been a lot of cursing at the computer--

But the difficulty I've had just getting coherent thoughts onto paper has been made worse by the fact that I feel as though I am a horrible mother. I think my kid sees more of the daycare lady than he sees of me, and for the last week, when he's seen me, my nerves have been shot from cursing at the computer.

I know I'm not the first person in the world to worry about how successful the whole balance between work and family is going, but I also get the feeling that he's getting so big...and I'm missing it. It's summer, and I was planning on keeping him home for a day every so often. I haven't done that once. Not one single time.

Sure, I've had to teach a class and work on this god-awful dissertation, but in the end, I wonder if it will be worth it.

Do you ever get to figure that out?

29 July 2008

Nation of Wimps

I once had a student turn in an essay that I could tell wasn’t his. I brought formal plagiarism charges against him, but they were dropped… because his mother wrote a note.

The entire incident was frustrating, but I also had a sense that it was very, very sad. Here was a young man, away from home for the first time, who made a mistake. Rather than learning something from the whole incident, rather than becoming a better student and a more responsible person, this particular young man learned nothing.

I’d heard of helicopter parents. They’re a pop culture phenomenon, but they’re also a very real problem.

Continue Reading

26 July 2008

Stuck in the Middle

I haven't written much here, because for once I've been writing elsewhere. (You know, that dissertation-thingy I'm supposed to be about done with.) I've also been dealing with a lot--a whole lot--of cr@p dealing with the whole knife incident.

The last few days have made me realize just how ridiculous the position of a graduate student is. On one hand, we're supposed to be instructors and give our students the same as we would if we were faculty. On the other hand, we're not faculty, so we don't really count--either as employees or as students.

Because so many of you told me I should report the knife incident, I did. To the police, and I told them I wanted to remain anonymous when they talked to the student. I also emailed our associate department head to let her know that the incident had occurred and that I was contacting the police about it.

I didn't want the student to know it was me who reported the incident for a number of reasons. Class has been going well, and I wanted him to remain comfortable seeing me as an ally rather than an enemy. I didn't want him to think that my reporting the incident was a judgment upon him as a person. But I had other reasons: I didn't want to create an opportunity for him to say that my grading was prejudiced because of the event and, to be honest, the event scared me enough that I just didn't feel 100% safe having him know who reported him.

He wasn't happy about the police visiting, and I did not confirm that it was, indeed, I who had caused his discomfort. But his reaction also bothered me. He didn't seem to understand that it was wrong to have such a dangerous weapon on campus. He didn't agree with the police's visit and didn't feel that he "deserved it." And he didn't seem to understand that other people had a right to feel uncomfortable in the presence of such a large knife. We corresponded via email, briefly, over the course of the week, and he presented to me his belief that everyone should be armed. That September 11th couldn't have happened if everyone on that plane had weapons training and carried knives. I held back and didn't respond by saying that no one would have gotten killed on May 4th had guns not been present--even in the hands of highly trained people. Instead I remained neutral.

Then, on Wednesday (this is now almost an entire week after the original incident), I find out that the associate department head is no longer even at our University and that my email has been forward to the person who is standing in for the summer. That professor must have skimmed my original email, because he responded (again, 5 days after the fact) that I could go to the police if I wanted (too late), but then emailed a few hours later saying that the Dean said maybe I should wait (once again...too late). They wanted the student's name and information, and I complied, with the request that if anyone else were to contact the student that they let me know first so I could be prepared to deal with his response.

So yesterday, I received an email from the student saying that the campus disciplinary committee had contacted him. Great. This is exactly what I did not want to happen. I contacted the acting department chair--he didn't know what was going on. I contacted the dean directly--she was a complete idiot.

Somehow in the course of our conversation, she made it very clear to me that this problem and my fear of the student was all of my own doing. Had I been forthright about telling him that I contacted the police, he would not be upset now. Apparently, I am also naive (her actual words). At one point, she said that what needed to happen was for me, some dean of students, and the student to sit down in a room and mediate this. For me to work out my problem with him and for him to work out his anger at being reported.

Here's the thing--I know that there is only this itty-bitty nonexistent chance that said student is emotionally unstable or psychotic. I know that he may be the sweetest, gentlest man on earth. But he brought, into my classroom, the kind of knife that (as another of my students said) you use to cut someone into fish bait. I don't care how lovely he may be, I am not willing to risk my family's safety if said student might want revenge for what he perceives to be an attack.

The dean didn't quite see it that way. She implied that any anger or anxiety the student feels now was my doing for keeping the report anonymous. As a teacher, I had a responsibility to step forward and tell him that I was obligated to report him.

By the end of the conversation I was sobbing into the phone. Her gut may have been telling her that this was all a big misunderstanding, but from the very beginning of this whole situation, my gut told me that he shouldn't know who reported him. And I trust that instinct, no matter how much I may be scared for no reason. She saw things very, very differently. This will not be the last time, she told me, that a student would make me feel uncomfortable.

No shit. I've had students make me uncomfortable. I've dealt with crap from guys who didn't think a woman should tell them what to do, from women who thought they could get away with anything because they were cute and bubbly, from racists and homophobic students who had no interest in reading something critically and were only interested in spouting more hate into the world. I have not, however, experienced a weapon in my classroom before, and to be frank, I hope to hell I never do again. This is not the same thing.

Luckily, the disciplinary officer was more understanding. He agreed to leave my name out of the conversation. But in the course of his discussion with me, he mirrored the dean's feelings that I had more responsibility to make myself known than another student.

I understand that, I do. As the instructor, I am responsible for the class and I should be able to use that responsibility to say that I am obligated to do certain things. But I'm not really in charge. I can't even bring a student up on plagiarism charges unless my supervisor says that I can. I do want to be a professor and I will accept that responsibility when I have it, but as I told the disciplinary committee officer, I am not a professor yet. I don't have the benefits or compensation that professor's have. I have only the most meager of health insurance, no retirement or insurance benefits, and am pain less than 1/3 of what professors are paid to teach more classes, in some cases, than they teach at my institution.

More importantly, I am not willing to put myself or my family at any greater risk than I have to if those who are my supervisors and who are in charge can't even keep me in the loop about what is going on. I shouldn't have had to make those calls. Someone should have kept me abreast of the situation. But no, instead of contacting me, they contact my supervisor--fine, then let him be the bad guy from the student's perspective, because this was never my intention from the beginning.

The whole situation really underlined just how precarious a situation graduate students are in. On one hand they want me to step up and take the same responsibility and risk that a professor is required to take. On the other hand they keep referring to me as the student's TA (it's my class) and treat my like I am not a colleague--or at least, a partner in this whole issue.

It's a problem, one that ruined my entire day yesterday. Not only do I have to worry if the student will be disruptive in class (he was Thursday), not only do I have to worry about more weapons showing up...now I have this huge wad of self-doubt about what I did wrong. Is the dean right? I don't think so, but that question eats at me. Not completely a student and not completely a member of the faculty, I'm stuck in the middle. And it sucks, majorly.

I have 4 more days left in class, and it's been a great class, but I just want it to be over. I'm just tired.

18 July 2008

And then feminism goes right out the window...

So I had a student pull out a knife today. A great big, "I could gut you like a pig" knife.

It's not as bad as it sounds. OK, it is, but not in the way you're thinking. It was after class and he was admonishing us all to be safe around campus because there has been a rash of sexual assaults. He prefaced the knife by saying that he wouldn't usually have this, but he ordered it for his sister and it just came in.

He reached into his backpack, and for a brief moment I thought he might have a gun. Total paralysis set in.

But then he pulled out the knife, a six-inch weapon sheathed in hefty black leather. "If you pull this out," he said, "no one will mess with you." For a moment I was met with a strange sense of relief mixed once again with paralysis. He pulled it out of its sheath and for a moment I laughed. It looked fake with its black blade. A prank, I thought. Scare the would-be assaulter away with the idea of a big knife. But then he told us it was indeed real, and razor sharp.

I have never felt so uncomfortable and worthless in front of a classroom in my entire life. He meant no harm, but students were visibly backing away from him. What was probably only a few seconds felt like time stood still. And I did nothing but stare at him.

What could I have done? Part of me feels like I should have instructed him to put the weapon away. A bigger part of me knows that this almost seven foot tall man with a large knife scared me too much to even move.

I'm not even sure what to do with the whole situation--I'm hoping that my students aren't too uncomfortable to continue being open in class. I'm hoping that I didn't fail them by not taking control of the situation. I'm hoping a lot of things--many of them involving never seeing any weapon in my classroom again.

17 July 2008

Random Filler

I'm not sure if THIS is funny or sad or what- but for your viewing pleasure, here ya' go.

16 July 2008

The "Other" Mothers....

They’re out there. Those “other” mothers. The ones with the perfectly pressed locks, bangs never out of place who just seem so, well, together. They are the moms that I imagine must have been those lucky creatures who glowed during pregnancy, who pushed twice and gave birth to a baby with a perfectly shaped head. Their children never had sleep issues, never had tantrums, never were picky eaters. They look perfect by the pool in their string bikinis while little Emma floats nearby. They know what’s up. They know somehow, some way how to make being a mom seem natural. No, they make being a mom look easy.

And they regularly make me want to throw a shoe at them.

continue reading....

14 July 2008

Feminism- 21st Century Style

Last Thursday, I did my brief spiel about feminist literary criticism in my class. I asked how many of them considered themselves feminists. Out of 8, only 4 raised their hands. Two women didn't.

That's fine. It's understandable even. We've gotten to this post-feminist moment (god, I hate that phrase) where most of my generation and the generations following me think that feminism equals bra-burning man-haters and that everything has already been fixed. These are young women who never grew up thinking that there were any limitations to their lives. No one told them that someday their brothers would go to college and they'd become mommies. No one tells them that they need to make a choice between being a partner and mother or having a career. And perhaps, for many, they never will.

But the cold hard truth is that someday most of those young, bright women in my class will hit the glass ceiling so hard that their teeth will rattle. Maybe they'll grow up and get married and no one will expect them to start having babies, so they'll be safe. Maybe their husbands will even "help" around the house--how lucky they will be to have such enlightened mates. Maybe, even, they will make more than their husbands.

The cold hard truth is that for many of them--feminist or not--they will reach a point where they have to choose. Where they have to make sacrifices that their partners never even think about making.

I've been reading some of my favorite bloggers lately, and it's made me curiously aware of my own situation. While they've been struggling along, I've been very, very lucky. My own husband is a partner in every sense of the word. I cook, he cleans the dishes. He gives little man a bath, I put him to bed. I nursed, he changed every diaper. He doesn't help around the house. He doesn't babysit for me. It's his home and he maintains it; it's his child and he cares for him. Period. There is no sense that we are anything but completely equal. And that's the only way I would ever have it. I've never been willing to be someone's maid, chef, and nanny.

He was raised by a second-wave feminist--one that marched on Washington for the Equal Rights Amendment and still curses Phylis Schaffley's name if it comes up in conversation. He wasn't raised to expect anyone to cook or clean for him. He's a better feminist than many women I've met.

But the job market it coming fast. Very fast. And I am very aware that his discipline makes more money than mine. If we have to choose between positions, I will loose if it comes down to money. It makes me angry. Very, very angry. And sad. Very, very sad. Because I've been reading the saga of another mother an wife who was denied tenure and who has decided to give up her hope of a research career to keep her family together. I can't help but see the pain and anger in her posts, and she should be sad and angry. It's not fair in a lot of different ways.

Studies have shown that women with families suffer in academia. In one study about the California system, the research showed that women predominantly hold those non-tenure track positions while men who were married and had children actually did better than their non-married counterparts. For women, having children is a liability. For men, it's proof that you're stable.

And I've been reading the blog of a local mom whose husband is a grad student and who stays at home with her daughter. Except that she, too, works as a freelance writer. And she laments being the one in charge of the household alone. It's a choice, I know, but she's also fighting against a society that sees her work as less valuable than his.

And it makes me sad and angry, because this is where we've gotten. To a place where the young women don't need to be feminists, don't identify with feminism as a cause, and won't fight for it.

We still don't have an equal rights amendment. We still have a presidential candidate that claims that women are paid less because they have less education and training. We still live in a world where I cannot put a picture of my son on my web page because it might cost me a job, when it will probably get my husband one. We still live in a word where smart women pick up their husband's messes, even when they have work of their own to do. And we still live in a world where it's a given that mothers will nurture, but its emasculating for men to nurture as well. We still live in a world where the media can call a presidential candidate a bitch or some other misogynistic slur, and there's not a thing she can do about it. We still live in a world where a woman is raped every minute and for the cost of one fighter plane we could test every one of the rape kits sitting on shelves because of lack of funding.

It makes me sad. It makes me glad I have a boy. I'm not sure that I could raise a girl in this world, because how do you tell her that she can do or be anything she wants, when you know that it just isn't completely true?

Post-feminist my a$$.

09 July 2008

ok- maybe not the yardstick...

I haven't written much lately, mostly because I haven't had anything I feel like saying. I feel like I should be writing my diss rather than anything here. And that's not really going right now. It will, but right now I'm a bit stalled.

Although, I think I've reached the point where I feel like I need to write-- like I'm ready. I just have to get a few more notes together an map out the argument. It's coming to me, though. Mostly right after I lay down in bed- zip!- inspiration hits, so I jump up and jot it down on a note card. Because there has to be a link between these things that keep popping--the canonization of big dead white men, the changes in the way americans read and understand authorship, the changes in the way books are made and circulate. It all has something to do with the 1950s and 1960s. Something to do with Postmodernism. And I think I'm almost there.

Despite my earlier rant about students not showing up for appointments, class is going well. I'm down to 9 students, which is fine by me-- I get paid either way. I really like teaching this course- it makes me feel useful. We've had discussions about grad school and what to do with an English degree and why or whether theory is important. And today, they thanked me for not making the class into a summer "fluff" course. But how could I? It's the course that should prepare them to be ready for any other English course. It would have been irresponsible to turn it into 75 minutes of sitting in a circle and singing "kumbaya" while we wax poetical on the way that meaning is, like, so impossible to obtain. Totally.

Nope- it's a class to kick their butts. And I've lost 4 already. That's fine- the ones that are staying I think are really starting to get it. You can see them starting to want it-- even though they tend to look dazed and drained by the end of the hour. It's been exhilarating to teach in that kind of environment. And the best part is that I feel like they should be ready when they leave- they'll know how to tackle any of the major genres, they'll know how to put together a strong argument, they'll know that there's nothing natural about the way we study English today, and they'll have a rudimentary understanding of the way theory has developed and progressed. All in 8 weeks. I call that a deal.

At first the class really took away from my dissertation work- it takes time to respond to daily responses and to grade papers. But I think it's getting to the point where it's inspiring me to get back to my work. Someone asked when it gets easier--the whole interpretation thing--and I told her that with practice it does eventually. But then it's harder again, because you're onto something new.

I'm onto something new- and it's getting harder. But little-by-little I'm figuring it out.

07 July 2008

Great 4th of July Post

I don't have one-- I'm too conflicted about the whole thing. Parades with the Clampets shooting guns as people still die and suffer thousands of miles away. And yet, the freedom to write all this and to say that I hate where we're going as a country, that I often want to leave.

So here's a better post than I could write.

02 July 2008

I believe in assigned seats and I good, strong yard stick....

I've been trying to write a first draft of my teaching philosophy-- one that doesn't sound too cliche, too grandiose, or too, well, anything but me.

This has not been going well.

The fact that I've had two students in two successive days make appointments with me (for which I had to rearrange both my and J's entire work schedules) and then not show the F$%* up.

This only causes anger, resentment, irritation, and the desire to write teaching statements about how even though I want to treat my students like the adults they are, I end up playing kindergarden teacher to a bunch of irresponsible and disrespectful brats.

Dude. I HAVE THINGS TO DO. Things which do not include sitting in a coffee shop waiting expectantly, like some sort of twisted blind date that I didn't want to go on to start with.

Now how am I supposed to sound pedagogical when I just feel like starting class with a stern lecture?

Really people, this is why I never wanted to teach High School.


01 July 2008

If Only the Stork Came with a Personal Shopper

I remember it like it was yesterday–parking in the special “mom-to-be” section, walking through the automatic doors, and encountering a space that seemed the size of a Target which held nothing but baby gear. It was overwhelming. Dizzying that there could be that much stuff to need, that much stuff to buy for a being whose biggest accomplishment to date was being able to provide sure and direct kicks directly to my bladder.

But overwhelmed or not, we marched on, scanner gun in hand, clutching our own list and the list that Babies “R” Us so handily provided for us. We had brought along my parents, and standing in front of the two-story high wall of bottling accessories, my dad asked, “you got enough nipples?” It was funny then, and it’s still funny to me now....