Thursday, September 30, 2010

A feline excuse

So, it's naptime. My plan was to eat lunch, do some laundry, clean the basement (sneak in some TV watching while I do it ....), catch up on the blog, etc.

I fell apart at laundry. We've gotten into a bad habit of washing all the laundry, but never actually putting it away. It goes from the dirty hamper to the washer, dryer ... and onto the couch, and then back onto our persons. The drawers/closet are not really involved.

I have a load of laundry in now, but there were already two loads on the couch. After putting the laundry in the washer, I did get the lunch and pick up the basement a little bit. By the time I was ready to fold the existing laundry .... it was too late. Somehow, I've lost my motivation.

A nap is sounding really good.


I'm expecting a student to show up on my doorstep any day now.

Ever since I've started teaching, I've become paranoid about seeing students outside of class. Not that it's such a terrible thing, but I always feel like I have to stop and think before I leave the house in my yoga pants and ratty old sweatshirt. What are the chances I'll run into a student? I wonder. I'm pretty young, for a professor, and so appearing professional and, I don't know, suitably academic? concerns me.

But even worse that the fear of running into students in public is the fact that it's very likely, at some point, one of them will deliver a pizza to my house. Last semester a student told me that he delivered pizza, and that's when it first occurred to me. Every time we ordered pizza, I cowered out of sight just in case. And now this semester, a student was wearing a pizza hat and I asked him if he worked there. He said that he is, indeed, a delivery driver for this pizza chain. And he works at my local restaurant.

I might as well just accept that it's going to happen eventually. But it's very disconcerting to imagine a student seeing my house, my unweeded garden, my living room strewn with toys. Especially if it's a night that we've resorted to ordering in pizza, that means it's even more likely that the house is a complete mess. And I'm a complete mess.

The only bright side is that, I think we can all agree, Keith needs to answer the door for the pizza deliveries from now on.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Familiar Colleague

I've been running into my Mom a lot lately. Which is kind of weird, because she lives across town, 45 minutes away. Except it's perfectly normal, because she is now teaching English on my campus!

In June she retired after 30+ years of teaching K-8 students. She was in a pull-out program, where she would take a few kids who tested below average and give them extra tutoring. So, to recap, she's had a lot of experience with students up to age 13, in small groups—no grading or lesson plans.

She knew she wanted to do something else after retirement, but she hadn't decided what. Her Masters in Education makes her eligible to teach the developmental classes (below ENG-101), and she had expressed a potential interest in it. At some point. Maybe. Just the Reading course, ENG-096.

But then, suddenly, 3 days before the semester started a professor told the department head he wasn't coming back. There were 2 or 3 classes to fill .... I volunteered my Mom for ENG-099 (mostly writing and grammar), and here we are! I figured she'd curse me at first, and be incredibly nervous, but eventually (hopefully?) she'd be glad.

It's so fun to be colleagues with her. I love sharing lesson plans, tips and tricks, discussing what worked for me and what hasn't. Plus, she has so much more experience in education than I do; she knows about so many resources and technologies that I'd never heard of. I'm sure her students already love her, and I'm very confident that she's doing much better than she gives herself credit for.

And what's even better? My older sister (Masters in Library Science) is also going to tutor in the writing center. People have started to look at me funny, and ask just how many family members I have who are involved in education.

I think the campus is safe from a family take-over, though. I don't think my electrical engineering Dad is really looking for a side job. And my younger sister (with a Masters in Special Education) is BUSY watching Eleanor when I'm at work, so she's definitely not available for another job. I would do everything I could to stop it, because it's so wonderful to have her taking care of Eleanor!

I'm so excited for Amy to start working on campus, too. Is it silly to picture sitting with my Mom and Sister in the cafeteria, talking about writing, pedagogy, and educational theories? Just thinking about it puts a smile on my face. (Which is bad, because I AM sitting in the cafeteria as I type this, but sitting alone.)

Youtube Play

In class this week, I planned a new lesson that didn't go very well. It involved playing a few videos from the Youtube Play biennial competition for the class. I wanted them to write down some main points about the videos, and then we were going to talk about how we'd group them for division-classification essays.

Here's one of the videos I used:

And another one:

This lesson didn't go well for two reasons, the main one being that I really suck at explaining division-classification essays. Honestly, I really didn't entirely understand the concept myself, even though it's the second time I've taught it. I just kept thinking of it like comparison-contrast, and couldn't get that out of my head, even though that's not really right. I kept talking, and looking out at a sea of blank faces.

Also, the lesson failed in my first class because Youtube was soooo slow. I learned my lesson and got all of the videos up and buffering long before I needed them, so they were fully buffered come show time in my second class. That time, they seemed to enjoy the videos more and it generated more discussion about the content .... but in the end, I still don't think they understand division-classification. Because I didn't understand it.

This was a good lesson for me that the content (which I still think was very cool!) is only secondary to my own understanding and explanation of the material.

Friday, September 24, 2010


I've clearly been MIA from the blog for the past couple weeks. I have to say, this semester has been really challenging so far. It's my first semester of teaching 3 classes and wow. Three classes means THREE TIMES the grading. Who knew?!?

The past two weekends, I've had about 60 essays to read, grade, and respond to. Along with birthday parties, family activities, etc. My life has not been balanced.

But I am speaking in the past tense, hoping that it's better now. For the rest of the semester, I think the assignments are more spread out and manageable. I hope.

So hopefully regular posting will resume soon!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Maternal Is Political

I think I've mentioned this book to quite a few people, but I've been reading The Maternal Is Political and loving it. It's a book of essays by women such as Ann Lamott, Nancy Pelosi, Benazir Bhutto, Cindy Sheehan, and many other wonderful writers whom I hadn't heard of before, but write with great purpose and clarity.

They are expressing many of the same frustrations and surprises I've been encountering as a new mother, but much more eloquently and with greater insight than I've been able to do. I know that I get frustrated, and I know there's some deeper reason for many of my minor, daily irritations, but I have a hard time even stopping to think long enough to get to the real reason. With this book, in some sense, these writers have revealed the reasons to me.

Many of the writers also have written columns or pieces for Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined. My sister Amy told me about the site awhile ago. I thought it looked interesting, bookmarked it, and never went back. It might become one of my homepages now, though.


Thursday, September 09, 2010

I have to pee on potty!

The big change from my last post about potty training is that Eleanor is actually telling us she has to go, instead of us always asking the question.

As you can see, we decided to go with stickers as potty reward; I'm trying to avoid food rewards as much as possible. What cracks us up about her Potty Board is that she now has, I don't know, maybe 30 stickers on it? But never fear—there's still plenty of white space. She puts all of the stickers on top of the letters. She doesn't really like to put them on the blank whiteness in the middle. Maybe it's too pretty to cover up?!?

When we first started, I said, "We'll see how it goes. I'm not saying it has to happen, just that we're going to try and if it doesn't happen we'll stop and try again later."

Now that it's been a couple weeks, I think it's really happening except I still can't get my head around it. She's so old! Are you really telling me I don't have to change diapers anymore? Or wash and fold the cloth diapers? It's such a huge change and it's been accomplished so gradually that I just don't believe it.

Of course, there are a few caveats. She's still in a diaper at night. We don't "change" diapers in that the diaper comes off in the morning and the big girl underwear goes on, never straight from one diaper to the next. Naptime has been pretty hit and miss (we've been washing a LOT of sheets), so I'm not sure what to do about that. I like that she doesn't want to be in diapers anymore, so I'm hesitant to stuff her into one for the nap. But when she wakes up from a nap soaking wet, nobody's happy.

We did make it through our first potty-trained trip to Kentucky very well. On Keith's suggestion, we took a little potty in the back of the car which was VERY IMPORTANT. Between driving to my parents' to drop off the pets, doing some shopping, and then driving to Kentucky, she used that little potty 4 times in one day. Times where, if we hadn't been able to open the back of car and plop her on the portable potty, we would have been in deep .... trouble.

I've been so worried about potty training for so long, I don't even know what's the next Big Thing. Reading? Counting? Learning a foreign language? All without any diapers!

The Writer's Inner Voices

For my class today, we talked about "Shitty First Drafts" by Anne Lamott. The overall gist of the piece (in case the title didn't give it away) is accepting that your first draft will not be any good, and you just need to get ideas down on paper and take it from there.

To start, I had the students do some freewriting on the "inner voices" they hear when they're trying to write. Lamott describes the characteristics of her own inner voices, and talks about how detrimental they are to her, in both the writing process and in her life in general. While the students wrote quietly, I also opened up my notebook and took my own advice. This is what I came up with:

What voices do I hear when I write? I feel like I start to ponder existential questions, instead of getting to the task at hand.
  • Am I a writer?
  • Was I meant to write?
  • Do I really have anything to say?
  • Hasn't it all been said already, by people much more successful and eloquent than I?
Although I guess it really depends on what I'm writing. If I'm writing for my blog, I compose a lot of it in my head before I ever get a chance to sit down and write. So once I do sit at the computer and open up a new blog post, the thoughts flow relatively easily.

If I'm writing fiction, I think I take the SFD approach and try to be a taskmaster. Tell myself to just keep my fingers moving, keep the words filling up the blank pages.

I also spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about how I'd spend the money, if I ever became a "successful" writer. I imagine paying off all my debt, traveling, feeling justified in furnishing and decorating a really nice, welcoming office space—no expense spared.My favorite artwork, the most ergonomic Herman Miller chair, a top-of-the-line sound system. Because, after all, this is a professional space now.

But then I remember, before all that, I need to write. And rewrite. And get it published, and get people to like it and buy it. And then I get depressed and ask myself whether it's even worth starting.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Back to school

This past week was the first week of classes.

I just kept thinking about how incredibly different this Fall feels from the same time last year. I had just been hired, I had NO IDEA what I was doing teaching, grading, lesson planning. It was all a mystery to me. I didn't even know what the process was for getting copies or how to find my classes.

This semester, I felt more excitement than nerves in the days leading up to the start of the semester. I walked into class, confident in my lesson planning and in my ability to teach my students what they needed to know. Or rather, I feel confident that I will do my best, and my best may not be the best ever, but it won't be the worst, either. And whether they actually learn it? Well, that is mostly out of my hands, and I am confident that I will not lose sleep when a student insists on failing my class by lack of effort and/or participation.

Outside of class, I ran into several former students. I got hugs and big smiles and exclamations of welcome. In the classroom, I met nearly 75 new students (I'm teaching 3 sections of ENG-101), who I am slowly getting to know. Who I can tease in class, who always has an opinion, who pays attention but will never raise a hand .... hopefully some of those will have hugs and smiles for me after the semester is over.

All week, in the back of my mind, I keep thinking, "Has it really only been a year?" It feels like a lifetime ago that everything was so new and scary and daunting. When I first started, I just kept telling myself that the first semester was the worst, and it would get better. It had to.

I'm so relieved to realize it's true. It's so much better than a year ago. And I'm looking forward to what this year will bring.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Do you have to go potty?

How about now?

And now?

We started potty training Eleanor when we got back from Vermont, and these are the words constantly on our lips. Every time I hold her on my hip, I get anxious. I start to wonder, Does my hip suddenly feel very hot and wet? Is she always this warm? Or is she peeing on me RIGHT NOW?

Despite my pee paranoia, so far, so good. She has had a few accidents, but not as many as I might have expected. She's peed at home, at her grandparents, at the Natural History museum ..... Let me clarify. She's peed in the potty at all of those places and more.

This weekend will be a real test: Our first trip down to visit Keith's family since the potty training started. I don't have any idea how long this trip will take. Just how many stops will we be making for Eleanor to sit on the potty? Or will we need to be washing out the car seat as soon as we get there?

I was going to say that we've been doing this long enough, and she's been successful enough, that I'm starting to believe this may actually stick. However, I'll reserve that statement for after we get back.