Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Stress: Mid-semester, End-of-quarter

For teachers to ask for more money, better benefits in exchange for the service they provide isn't selfish. To me, selfishness would sound something like this: when I win the Lottery, I'm going to quit teaching.

This week, I'm feeling pretty selfish.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Teeth Don't Fail Me Now

I can't tell you how happy I was to wake up the other morning to find all my teeth in their proper places. The night before I had had a dream so vivid and drawn out that I couldn't distinguish it from reality. In this dream my molars—both sides, top and bottom—cracked down the middle, and I had to pull them out. They were still lined in rows when I pulled them out. It simply looked like I had bridges that had split in half as a result of controlled gnashing.

At one point during the dream I thought I was aware of the dream state. Then I felt the bloody sockets where my teeth were supposed to be, felt the sting of a fresh wound, and became convinced I wasn't sleeping, that I'd have to go several years without any back teeth because I couldn't afford the dental work. The only thing that seemed out of place, that might have tipped me off to my state of mind: everyone I encountered in the dream—even people that have never been kind to me in real life, but for some reason made appearances—was surprisingly sympathetic to my dilemma.

So, yes, I was very pleased to wake up and run my tongue across a two full rows of filmy, morning-stanky teeth. Still, the vividness of the dream stuck with me all day. It got to the point where I looked up the meaning of my dream online. And being the fine educator and researcher that I am, I stopped searching for answers after the first website I cam across. Here are some of the things it told me:

  • Dreams involving the loss of teeth are extremely common and are most often regarded by psychologists as signs that the dreamer is worried (consciously or sub-consciously) about the loss or weakening of his or her strength or self-confidence.
  • Dreaming of losing some or all of one’s teeth can mean “losing it."
  • To be toothless in a dream can be interpreted as loss of effectiveness.

There were other interpretations, but I felt that they didn’t apply. These ones were relevant to the circumstances surrounding the previous day’s events. They made sense to me. The day before I had this dream, my boss at Rasmussen observed me while I taught. It didn’t go very well (it never really seems to). And not because I wasn’t prepared or didn’t have a specific lesson—it didn’t seem to go well because class didn’t run as smoothly as it usually does.

I happen to like teaching at Rasmussen, because (generally speaking) the students there have very specific goals, and they don’t want to waste their time and money. I respect that. My class at MSU seems like the exact opposite: (in general) they don’t care about the subject or the material, just the grade; they’re shocked by the penalties I’ve set for late work (this is college, for fuck’s sake—I had professor’s in undergrad who wouldn’t even accept late work!); and they absolutely refuse to talk during discussion, even after I remind them that class participation makes up a portion of their grades.

But this bitchfest isn’t about MSU. Even though it kinda is.

The day I was observed, it just felt off. We didn’t click like we usually do, and I thought it showed. That’s when the discouragement started pouring over me. I got down because I thought the off day represented my ineffectiveness as a teacher. Which led to a slippery slope of justification for all the reasons I should get out of the field.

Reason number one for wanting to get out: my writing has suffered. It’s not that I don’t have time to write; I’ve been making time. The problem is that when I do write it’s a whole lot of shit. I know, I know. You’ve got to work through the shit in order to find the gold, and whatnot. Easier said than done. When I sit down to write, I can’t get into the dream or find out what my characters are thinking. The only thing that cycles through my mind is why the hell it took me an entire two-hour class period to teach college students what’s a thesis statement.

Maybe it’s because for-profit colleges don’t have admission requirements, which means some of the students they “accept” might not be college material?

Maybe that’s an unfair assumption. Maybe the ridiculously low wage I earn for the amount of work I’m doing is creating a level of bitterness that serious educators shouldn’t possess.

See. Right there. That’s what I’m talking about. A real teacher wouldn’t think that. A real teacher would want to help students, regardless of superficialities like pay. Right?

I still help my students. But I also think my bitterness is somewhat justified. My work comes home with me.

I’ve begun conducting new job searches, hoping to find some full time work. A few of the positions I’ll be applying to are teaching jobs, and I think the full time status will help ease some of my reluctance toward the profession. I’m tired of the commutes in opposite directions (77 miles to the south once a week, 21 miles to the north twice a week—those are one way figures, keep in mind). It’s literally and figuratively turning me around and making me dizzy. If I only have one work destination, with one set of policies and procedures, maybe I won’t be as down on myself as I have been. Maybe in my dreams my teeth will remain intact.

Monday, January 17, 2011

2011 Reading List: So far, so good

I'd say that the start of 2011 has gone well. I'm watching a lot less TV and am reading constantly. The amount writing, however, has only increased slightly from last year, which is not where I'd like to be. Hopefully I turn that around soon.

Anyway, I stated in a post a few months back that I wasn't going to buy any new books until I read a substantial number of the ones I already own. With the exception of buying and receiving some as Christmas presents, I've stuck to the plan. So far, so good.

Here's the tentative 2011 reading list I had setup at the beginning of the year. These all fall under the category of books I own or have in my possession, but haven't read. I hope to add more, once I've burned through most (if not all) of these titles:
  1. The Passage by Justin Cronin *READ*
  2. The Stand by Stephen King
  3. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (making its 8th consecutive appearance on the annual to-read list!)
  4. The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass
  5. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  6. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
  7. Independence Day by Richard Ford
  8. Lay of the Land by Richard Ford
  9. Rock Springs by Richard Ford
  10. A Multitude of Sins by Richard Ford
  11. Oh What a Paradise it Seems by John Cheever *READ*
  12. The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever
  13. Forty Stories by Donald Barthelme
  14. Demons in the Spring by Joe Meno
  15. The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon
  16. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
  17. Light in August by William Faulkner
  18. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
  19. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  20. Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut
  21. Not that You Asked by Steve Almond
  22. Driving Mr. Albert by Michael Paterniti *READ*
  23. The World According to Garp by John Irving
  24. This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff
  25. In The Heart of the Heart of the Country by William Gass
  26. If Rock and Roll Were a Machine by Terry Davis *READ*
  27. Mysterious Ways by Terry Davis
  28. Borrowed Voices by Roger Sheffer
  29. Fakebook by Richard Terrill
  30. Night Birds by Thomas Maltman
  31. Throw Like a Girl by Jean Thompson
  32. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
  33. Wind by Leigh Allison Wilson
  34. Cavedweller by Dorothy Allison
  35. Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  36. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  37. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
  38. Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
  39. A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler
  40. 1984 by George Orwell
  41. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  42. Times Arrow by Martin Amis
  43. The Slide by Kyle Beachy
  44. Tooth and Claw by T.C. Boyle
  45. Dancer by Colum McCann
  46. Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien
  47. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
  48. Sonny Liston was a Friend of Mine by Thom Jones
  49. The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby by Tom Wolfe
  50. Close Range by Annie Proulx
  51. Five Skies by Ron Carlson
Fifty-one. Fifty-one books, AH-AH-AH-AH-AH. Admitting that I've never read some of these books (I won't say which ones, though you could probably figure it out) is kind of embarrassing, considering they appear on high school English curricula. That's why this is the year I knock those out, in addition to some other long overdue reads.

I've already finished four of the books on this list, though three were pretty short. That leaves me with forty-seven books to read in just under eleven and a half months. What is that, like four books a month? No problem, so long as I continue my current pace. The prospect of buying new books will be acting as my motivator.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Just a quick note on my mind

Right this minute I'm experiencing tiny vision. If you're not familiar with this phenomenon, it's when you achieve a level of exhaustion/sleepiness/hunger that makes everything around you look like it belongs in a doll house. Which can be cool, because you almost get this out-of-body sensation, like you're watching yourself while buttering bread or typing a blog post or wiping buttery fingerprints off the keyboard of your laptop. But it can also be a little scary, especially when you stand and discover a previously undiagnosed fear of heights. Yikes.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Turning a Corner

First week teaching at Rasmussen is in the books. So far, I’ve been surprised about how well it’s gone. The full-time English professor there—as well as friends and acquaintances who work, or have worked, for Rasmussen—had warned me about what to expect: teaching there’s a challenge, it’ll take some getting used to. I was advised on how to handle both the school’s protocol and potential issues with students that could arise. I welcomed the warnings and the advice; however, all of this information sent the mercury in my anxietometer bursting through its glass casing.

I started having first-day-of-class nightmares, the ones where I show up to class and find that I haven’t written a syllabus, I’m unable to think of anything to say, and none of the students are willing to take me serious. That led to lack of sleep, which caused a major dip in my productivity, and then I became convinced the nightmares would play out in real life.

Since I began teaching I’ve gotten the first day jitters each semester. Sometimes they go away before class starts, other times they’ve receded as I commenced with taking attendance and reading the syllabus. The worst I ever had them was the first day teaching my own section of English Comp, fall of my second year at MSU. I had been stressing out because I would be teaching a class predominantly made up of freshmen at10:00 am, beginning on a Monday. Which meant that for some—if not most, or even all—of these students, I would be the first college instructor they’d be encountering, EVER.

If that doesn’t scare the shit right out of you, then you probably enjoy watching puppies being drowned by the sackful. Because 1.) I hadn’t had much experience teaching (two or three times leading a class as an intern, maybe two teaching demonstrations), and 2.) these kids (or, more likely, their parents) were paying a lot of money for me to gain on-the-job training.

I was psyching myself out of a limited (not every grad student got a Teaching Assistantship) and very necessary (if I wanted to pursue a career in teaching) opportunity. In an attempt to snap me out of this nervous funk, I kept reminding myself of these key points. But that didn’t work. If anything, it made me more anxious.

The morning of my first class, I arrived to the room and found nearly all of my students standing in the hall, waiting for me to let them in. It felt as though they were all looking down on me; none of them, it seemed, were shorter than six-five. So I fumbled for my key card and without looking up to check the time, I unlocked the classroom. The door swung wide open, giving my students and me a clear view of the previous class still in session.

The Instructor in this class, along with her students, stopped whatever it was they had been doing and gave me the kind of slack-jawed stare reserved for perverts who like to crash brisses. I apologized, began closing the door, apologized again before the door hit the jamb, and turned to face an entire class of Power Forwards. I didn’t try to crack a joke, make a face, or anything else that might have cut the tension of that moment. I did the only thing that seemed right at that moment: I went to my office.

It was just down the hall, not more than thirty feet away, within view of the classroom. Keys already in hand, I went to work at the lock. The jitters, however, had taken full effect. My palm was sweaty and my hand shook like a jackhammer. The first key didn’t work, neither did the second. Then my second attempt with the first key failed, and I almost dropped the whole set. I turned my head to see the students in the hallway still looking at me. Their stares seemed to slice through me, circumcising me at the neck. I felt my chin fall to my chest, my head detach from my body and roll behind a nearby trash bin.

The next few seconds were a blur, but somehow I was able to pick my head up, find the right key, and enter the sweet sanctuary of the English Teaching Assistant’s office. There I chuckled about what had just happened, which allowed me to take a deep breath and steady my nerves. I took another minute before going back out into the hall, finding that my students weren’t giants and that they really weren’t intimidating at all. The first day of class was a breeze after that.

In the semesters that followed, I’d still get jittery on the first day and telling myself that story wouldn’t necessarily work in calming me down. I’d get to class feeling nervous and think, “This is the day I’m going to completely shut down in front of my students.” But that feeling would soon pass once I took attendance.

This past Tuesday, however, I was a major wreck. It seemed like I was missing something from my materials, or even some understanding of what was expected of me as a teacher at this school with which I’m not completely familiar. I could have sworn I was forgetting something so basic and obvious that simply showing up to campus would make me look like the world’s biggest fool. So when I arrived to campus, I made sure I was wearing pants before stepping out of my car. They were on, and they were zipped up. No visible stains in or around the crotch: we were good to go.

And when I entered the building, I was completely calm. My heart rate seemed normal, it didn’t feel like my limbs were filled with air to the point of shaking: I wasn’t nervous. Same went for being in the classroom, talking to my new set of students. I could feel my confidence level increasing with each passing minute. The students helped, I think. They were nothing like what I had expected (in terms of attentiveness and professionalism), based on what I had been told by the full-timer. But that’s not the only reason I didn’t have the jitters.

I think I’m reaching a point where I’m confident in my ability to speak and share knowledge in front of people, without fear that someone’s going to call me out on my bullshit. Not that what I thought I was teaching was bullshit; rather, I feared that if someone tried to contest an idea I was sharing, I wouldn’t be able to justify its validity. But I realized that I am perfectly capable of justifying my ideas and that the classroom is the perfect place to discuss, work through, or explore alternatives to those ideas when someone is having difficulties—for whatever reason—grasping them. There’s no need for me to worry about something as trite as public speaking, especially since I know what I’m doing. I got this shit down.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New threat from China's stealth jet?


Because nothing spells out imminent danger quite like an internal rhyme scheme. If this jet somehow leads to the next world war, I'm blaming cable news and its insistence on creating something out of virtually nothing just to be the one that broke a story first.

There, I got it out of my system for the day.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bert's been circled!


And now he's headed to Cooperstown. Congratulations, sir; you've waited much too long for this honor.