Saturday, September 30, 2006

Erin's Recipes for People Who Can't Cook: Pumpkin Cookies

This is a great recipe for fall, and also for the indecisive. The original recipe calls for 1 cup of pumpkin, but seriously? Pumpkin comes in two-cup cans. The solution seemed fairly obvious to me, and now I have 6 dozen cookies. Whatever. Guess the department will be receiving some bounty on Monday.

2 c. canned pumpkin (one 15 oz. can)
1 c. shortening
2 c. sugar
4 c. flour
3 capsful lemon juice (~3 tsp., I guess? The original recipe called for grated orange peel, which I did not have on hand, so I substituted a random amount of lemon juice until the batter tasted interesting, which...your mileage may vary)
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
Raisins and/or chocolate chips (optional)

3 oz. cream cheese
1/3 c. butter
2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Heat oven to 375. Mix pumpkin, shortening, and sugar. Add remaining ingredients and mix. Decide batter needs nutmeg. Sprinkle some in until it looks right and mix. Divide batter three ways, leaving 1/3 plain, putting 6 oz. chocolate chips in 1/3, and the tail end of that box of raisins in the back of the cupboard in 1/3. Drop onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 8-10 minutes (mine looked great at 8 exactly). Mix frosting ingredients, first with a spoon, then with the handheld thing your grandmother gave you last Christmas that is like, the second most useful thing ever for scaring the cats. Frost the cooled raisin and plain cookies, but not the chocolate chip ones, because that's just sugary death.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I can't give you a grade when I've never seen your work, child

I realize I should be in bed right now, dreaming the dreams of good little English teachers, but I doubt it's going to happen that easily tonight.

It's been kind of a hellacious day, and I blame students. Or rather, one specific student, who is, thankfully, no longer mine, but an ulcer-provoker nonetheless. I'm sure 90% of the people I know have already heard this story, but I've gotta hope typing it out one more time will help me get to sleep.

So this kid shows up in my class on the first day and then not again. A week goes by, I figure he's dropped. Fine. Then I get an email from the registrar--his mother died the month before school started, he'll be out until Sept. 4. Again, fine, he's excused, and I feel bad for him. It's a tough break, to be sure. He emails me around that time to tell me the same, plus that he's been ill and had no internet. Fine, see you in class Wednesday.

He doesn't show for three more weeks, in the meantime missing three scheduled meetings with me and an untold amount of work in class. I'm still sympathetic--he's having panic attacks, he writes, is not ready to come back to class--but baffled. Why is this kid even in school this semester? Clearly his brain is trying to get him to deal in a place that is not the classroom. Also, his major technically excuses him from ever having to take my class, so it would seem an obvious one to drop. He's missed eleven of my classes, and even with the four excused absences, that puts him at a C- for attendance/participation for the semester, if he misses not a single class more.

He emails again on Friday and asks to see me Monday, brusquely apologizing for missing our last scheduled meeting. I say fine, I'll be in at 9:45, see you then. He comes in at 10 and basically informs me that a) all his other professors are letting him start over as if the last four weeks of class had never happened, and b) he is an A student and can get no less than a B in my class or he'll be "done with college," whatever that means. I'm trying not to be offensive or unsympathetic, but still clearly establish that there's no way I can ignore 7 unexcused absences in a discussion-based class, especially not when combined with a slew of missing work and little to no prior warning. He's not hearing it, and finally I cop out and say I have to talk with my director to see what the department policy is; I'll find out this very day and get in touch with him ASAP; in the meantime I say that his work can probably be made up to some degree and that he's welcome to a three-day, over-the-weekend extension on the major paper due Friday. He informs me that he will be talking to my program director this very moment (i.e., he will not be attending the class that I would be teaching directly after our talk). Fine, I say. I'll be in touch.

I spend the rest of the day (minus an hour of teaching and an hour of being in my own class) chasing around after information for this kid. I talk to my pedagogy mentor, I get advice from three other graduate students, I email the College of Liberal Arts briefly and my program director much less briefly. Both answer promptly, clearly saying that the student is responsible for making up missed work and that I am not responsible for managing that process, and expression confusion about why he's still in my class. I forward the former sentiment to my student not five hours after we've met, phrased somewhat more kindly, along with a matter-of-fact outline of what's to be made up and a suggestion that he schedule a meeting with my program director to get everything concretized. My program director, who I've cc'd on the email, says it looks good.

I call my mother and repeat this tale in full, trying to purge the ulcer I feel forming. I work on other homework.

And then, at 11:30, I get an email from the student "thanking" me for my "feigned sympathy" and saying that he'd dropped the class "like rain" (he's a cloud? As I frequently say to my class, "I'll buy it") the minute he walked out of my office because I was the only teacher out of five who refused to just let him start over with no consequences.

So while I'm relieved that he's out of my class and no longer my problems, I'm left with a few questions. Namely:

1. He couldn't have informed me sooner that he was dropping so I didn't have to chase-ass around all day working on this?

2. Did I come off that coldly, or is he just mad that I wouldn't let him forget over two weeks of absences? I realize I'm not super warm and fuzzy to people that I don't know, but neither was I trying to make a really bad situation really badder.

3. Dude. Seriously?

4. Are all the other instructors and professors at this school pushovers? Because I'm pretty sure this is not the way things work in real life. You have a job and your parent dies, then yes, you get time to grieve, but you also have to DO YOUR JOB after a certain point in time, and some jobs you have to go back and make up whatever you've missed while you were grieving. It's not disrespectful, it's Things go on. I feel heartless, but it's not fair to my other kids who have been in class, including my Army reserve kid who's had no time on the weekends to do homework because he's training but still brings me response papers, or my kids who have things happening that I have not the tiniest inkling about, but who still keep showing up and at least filling a seat, if not actively engaging.

So I'm wondering if I handled this as well as I possibly could. I just don't know. I mean, I probably could have been...warmer, and I'm really very sorry if my interactions with this kid made his situation worse. But academically, I can't see how this could have had any other good resolution. He stays in my class, he's most likely going to fail, or, at best, pull a C that's unacceptable to him. He won't be familiar with the class dynamic or any of the work that we've been doing in class, and will never be totally caught up, even if I repeat verbatim for him the 11 classes he's missed. He doesn't stay in my class, he gets an easily explained W on his transcript and sends me a nasty email so I feel guilty and can't sleep, but I don't have to deal with him ever again.

Fine. I wish him well and Wednesday we'll move forward with class as if he had never been there. Which, indeed...

Monday, September 18, 2006

"He eventually drowned and that ended his life."

The above gem from a response paper on "Not Waving But Drowning" by Stevie Smith.

So I've been teaching General Literature for a month now. It is, of course, a continual rollercoaster between wildly enjoyable and deeply depressing, but in general things are going quite well, and I am actually pretty good at this, I think, except:

1. I cannot manipulate chalk properly. The first day of class I got chalk dust all over the front of my black shirt; I constantly have chalk on my thigh, hands, chest, or ass. Not only that, but I'm averaging about two pieces of broken chalk per 50-minute class session. I prefer when it breaks as I'm writing, rather than when I drop it on the floor.

2. I tend to underestimate my students. Not always, but sometimes they get the point of things far faster than I want them to, and I'm sort of left without anything to say. "Uh...okay. Yeah. Gregor turned into a bug because he's always led a bug-like life. My lesson plan is complete and we only have 40 minutes left." My new technique for dealing with this? Extensive in-class writing. That'll learn 'em.

3. On the flip side, I frequently can't stop laughing at things they say. Usually I'm able to control it in class, but one of the best things about being a teacher is that you get to report all these things to others, particularly fellow instructors who can usually one-up you. A gem from Titus: "Was Lavinia that bangin', that everybody was fighting over her?" Yeah, Lavinia was totally a bangin' bitch, and where do we see that in the text?