2012 in review

December 31, 2012 § 1 Comment

Thanks to the WordPress.com “stats helper monkeys” for putting together this lovely annual report for A.Hab.’s View (2012).

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 8,400 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 14 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Personally, I think there is some room for improvement. But a new baby and a completed terminal degree will keep a girl from her blog. 2013 will be better! Without having to write the dissertation, I will have more time to blog. Stay tuned for a more-consistently-updated A.Hab.’s View in 2013!

The art of being wrong

December 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone.

In a spectacularly lazy move, I’m going to just link you to the guest post I wrote for Tori Nelson’s blog The Ramblings, as part of her Tiny Spark Series.

My post, “The art of being wrong” was featured today, which you can read here:

I would personally be grateful to you if you read and left a little comment. And I think you would be grateful to yourself if you poked around a bit in Tori’s blog…and considered following her. Because she is so hilarious and so worth it. If you like smiling and feeling happy, then you should be a regular reader of Tori’s. Just sayin’.

Have a lovely New Year, readers!

I’ll be back in a week or so with some new material. Maybe even some updates on Melanie! Lord knows I’m a few months behind.

regrets, pt. 3

December 20, 2012 § 4 Comments

And directly on the heels of Rowan’s rejection, here comes the rejection from Wisconsin-Madison.


Half of my potential schools have officially rejected me now. Judging by the pace at which I received these last two rejections, I am going to guess that my last three will likely arrive any day now. Why am I so confident that I will be rejected? Because deadlines have come and gone, and no one requested to see additional materials from me. I will not be granted an interview if they have not looked at additional materials (like letters of recommendation and writing samples).

It is with this third rejection that I am beginning to feel a little shaken. Not shattered and destroyed, mind. But a bit shaken. Wondering about the possible colossal mistake I made by following my interests and natural talents, and earning an advanced degree in such a specialized, practically non-hirable field. Considering advising the opposite course of action when Melanie goes to college.

As I said, I am not shattered by this–just a bit shaken. In the meantime, I have submitted a shorter version of a dissertation chapter to a journal (the one that the entire committee loved the most). I fear that a rejection from a journal will lead to some deterioration of my positivity and optimism. Of course, I am liable to be rejected simply by virtue of statistics. Rejections are far more common to receive than acceptances, and I have never submitted an article for publication before. So, it is statistically likely that the first line I cast in the publication pool will come up empty.

Let’s just hope the rest of the forthcoming rejection letters are a bit gentle.

regrets, pt. 2

December 20, 2012 § 5 Comments

I humbly present to you Candidate #2 for the best of the worst rejection letters. This one comes from Rowan University’s English department. We’ll vote after all rejection letters have arrived.



December 11, 2012 § 6 Comments

Bleary-eyed and still shaking off sleep-induced confusion, I checked my e-mail on my phone. 10 new messages awaited my attention at 6:03 a.m. As per usual, the plethora of e-mails were not as urgent as the subjects suggested. I highlighted message after message, selecting these for eradication. “Save 40% storewide TODAY ONLY!” “A special gift for you, A.Hab.!” “Your 20% coupon to Spas Unlimited awaits you!”

Ugh. How do these people find me?

Just as I started to click the “Delete” button, my brain began to sift through the cobwebs and exclaimed, “WAIT!” I paused a moment. I had highlighted a message with the subject “regrets”.

“Don’t you think that looks curious?” mine brain urged.

“Uhm…yes?” I supposed. Frankly, I was eager to return to that last dream I had been having before my alarm so rudely roused me. I was not really curious about anything.

“Then let’s open it and just give it a look.”

Shrugging to no one but the cats, I clicked on that unassuming, all lower-case “regrets” to find this message:


Suddenly alert, it dawned on me what this unassuming e-mail had accomplished in so few words and with utter absence of personalization: eliminated a possibility from my potential professional future.

I read and re-read the message a few more times before responding with a much more polite e-mail, this one addressed to its intended recipient, and thanked the university for its consideration.

For the remainder of the day, I considered two things: the first, how very like applying to college it is to apply for a job within academia; the second, how surprisingly unscathed I was by my rejection.

Tackling the latter first, perhaps it is because I am already hired for a teaching position next semester that I do not feel the same amount of soul-crushing defeat I once felt when rejected from educational programs. Perhaps it is because I was rejected from a job that was not my top choice. Perhaps it is because I am still not entirely convinced that this is what I want to be when I grow up. Whatever the reason, I am not eager to dwell on it for fear that I will begin to feel defeated.

As for the similarities within academia between applying for programs and applying for professional jobs…the overlap is eerie.

Materials required for both types of applications:
–Cover letter
–3 letters of recommendation
–Writing sample (longer page requirements the higher you climb through the educational system)
–Curriculum Vitae (CV)

The only differences I noted in my application materials were my statement of teaching philosophy and my teaching portfolio. (Although I did not submit a full teaching portfolio during my initial applications, it has been recommended to me that my portfolio be ready if requested.) While I recognize that my recent graduation from my doctoral program should indicate that I have reached the inevitable telos of my academic pursuits, somehow I feel uncomfortably tied to my 17-year-old self who anxiously attended the college fair at her high school, unsure if she would measure up in the first place.

Following sage advice from peers and professors alike, I applied for all job postings for which I was qualified. Unfortunately, that left me with sending out a paltry six applications. Thus the academic job market and demand for Shakespeareans. With last week’s rejection, I am left with five jobs from whom I have heard nary a peep. It bodes ill for me–I am under the impression that I should have heard more if they were interested in additional materials by now. In a different post, I will explain the way that the American academy handles professional hirings for those who may not already be familiar with it.

Suffice to say in the meantime, the process is similar to applying for educational programs, replete with frightening deadlines and the need to impress faceless names.

If I receive more rejections, which is likely to happen at this stage, I will make a six-part series of it. Then we can all compare the best of the worst rejection letters.

Have you ever had a surprising or unanticipated reaction to rejection? Have you ever received a form rejection letter?

Seeing the light and affecting just one life

December 10, 2012 § 6 Comments

I graduated on Saturday, December 8th, 2012.

My dissertation director draped the hood across my shoulders, and I shook hands, strutting my stuff across the stage. The symbolism was great on that day. Upon entering the arena, my director walked before me. Upon approaching the stage, she walked before me. Once I stood up from my crouch to be hooded, I walked in front of her. It was a moment that I had not anticipated would have affected me quite the way that it did.

I arrived to the meeting room twenty minutes before the e-mail had instructed me to. I was nervous and antsy, so I read an athletic program, staring blankly at pictures, feeling a bit alone among all the other graduating doctoral students who seemed to be there in pairs. When I finally saw my director come into the room, I hurried over to her, feeling suddenly thrilled and excited. I felt like I belonged there. Soon, we were given instructions–hand over your hoods now (it will be on the stage waiting for you), don’t take up more than one seat (just squeeze together), don’t hug each other on the stage (keep moving quickly), and remember to smile (there will be pictures)! There was a joking promise of seeing the light (you will suddenly realize that you know everything there is to know once you get hooded).

My director and I offered muttered commentary where some of the instructions warranted it, stifling our laughter behind sarcastic smiles.

After we had chorused our understanding of the instructions, we were herded back downstairs to the arena portal where we would enter for the last time as students. My director and I muttered together about another professor’s hatred of ceremonies, confessing that we both secretly loved going to graduations. I was relieved to know that I wasn’t alone in feeling the weight of this moment. I walked past my family, seated only a few rows above me. Once I found my seat, I heard a familiar motorboat sound and looked slightly to my left: there was Melanie with Robert’s family, seated near a door for a quick get-away. I felt surrounded by my supporters, both behind me and in front of me (later I would learn my friends were seated to my left).

The familiar music swelled and ended as the departmental representatives arrived and were seated alongside the masters of the ceremony. Speakers spoke. The commencement speaker was a humble professor of poultry science who had earned several excellence in teaching awards–and well deserved. He spoke about success not requiring strength in quantity but strength in quality–it is possible to succeed by positively affecting just one life, not all lives. I took his message to heart, and I saw the light in it.

After my director and I were seated, she and I began to play the “look at the undergraduates’ shoes” game. This is a famous game, rumored to me by her previous doctoral candidates. I was delighted when I received my formal invitation to play. While she remarked on the height of heels coupled with inexperience in walking in them, I pointed out dullness of men’s shoes coupled with programs of expertise. Of course, the military men and women swept my shine score card, but that was to be expected (and was). I love a high shine.

The ceremony ended quickly–in under two hours. We were escorted out of the arena to applause and back up to the room where we first convened. After sharing my home address with my director and receiving her promise to attend the reception afterwards, I hurried down to the arena to hug my husband.

I have been flying high ever since.

A few people have asked me what it feels like to be finished. And, in fact, I must confess that I have asked my other friends the same question when they have completed their degrees. It’s a feeling that has no description. Does it feel good? Of course. Do I feel relief? Immense relief. Do I feel proud? I want to wear my hood everywhere.

But what word encapsulates all of those adjectives?

The best I can come up with is happy.

If you are working on a degree, and I know so many who are, push yourself. It will hurt. It will suck. It will make you question your decision-making skills. But this is a finite experience, as long as you end it. Finish your program, and no one will ever be able to take your degree away from you (along with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities therein pertaining).

Push yourself. Finish the degree.

This happiness is well worth it.

6, 12, 25: reaching the educational finish line

October 23, 2012 § 17 Comments

The number of years I spent in my PhD program.

The number of years I spent in higher education programs.

The number of years I spent in all educational programs.

Reaching the educational finish line is not always as easily mapped-out as it may at first appear. On that first jittery morning, standing on the hearth with plastic Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox in hand, plaid jumper and be-ribboned pigtails quivering, I grinned until my cheeks hurt. This was the day. I would get to ride on the Big Girl Bus, stay away from home all day long, and return with tales as long as my arm about the lessons learned in kindergarten.

I didn’t know, couldn’t know, that on that Day One I would embark on a journey that would carry me for 25 years. To the passive observer, my path was clear-cut from the beginning. I was the child who lined her stuffed animals up (and later added her younger sister to the group) in order to offer reading instruction, pointing to letters and imagining their chorused response. The destiny was obvious: this child will teach. So I carried that in my heart for 25 years, positioning myself and repositioning myself until that goal was no longer a shimmering possibility but a very real outcome. Although I was not a driven high schooler, I managed well enough to get into a good liberal arts college. From there, I buckled down, ultimately clawing my way into a graduate program in spite of unimpressive GRE scores, in spite of a decision from the admissions faculty not to fund my education with a teaching assistantship. A week before classes began, I took advantage of an opportunity in order to swoop in and take an assistantship from a graduate student who had rejected hers earlier that morning. I took a chance by applying to a single doctoral program, not expecting to be accepted; feeling utter joy, gratitude, and fear upon reading my acceptance letter.

Six years later, I have reached the inevitable telos of my path. My journey is not unlike the journeys of other people, and not just of the academic nature. It began with excitement and anxiety, maintained a level of energy and motivation for a while, dipped into nadir-depths, trudged through sluggish valleys, cautiously ascended…until I reached the summit, battered, bruised, but there dammit.

Have I wavered on my life goal? Yes. Do I doubt my training, my ability, indeed my own interests? No.

Yesterday afternoon I defended my dissertation.

I am no longer a graduate student.

I will graduate this December as A.Hab., PhD.

Cloth diapering our Baby Hab.: how we made the switch

September 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

When Melanie was born, Robert and I faced decisions we never before had considered. Will we puree our own food or buy prepackaged? Will we stick with breastfeeding or switch to the bottle? Will one of us stay at home or will we search for daycare? And, yes, what sort of diapers will we use?

We started with disposable because that is what the hospital used. We found them easy, convenient, and extremely quick. When Melanie was filling her diaper every 45 minutes, nearly just as quickly as I was filling her tummy, the disposables were a no-brainer. And those early breast-milk poops? Disposables. No-brainer. As her bodily rhythms started to clarify and regulate, our confidence increased. A friend of mine sent me some of her cloth diapers just to give a little try, zero pressure, and one day I bit the bullet. I actually felt nervous and scared and all of that. I don’t know what was scary, but I genuinely felt anxiety. (I found out that those anxious feelings are perfectly normal when embarking on the cloth diapering journey.) By the end of the day, my baby was still healthy and whole, sans diaper rash, plus adorable Hello Kitty butt. So, the next day, I tried it again. And before I knew it, I was noticing that those three diapers simply weren’t enough. Robert and I crunched the numbers and dove in.

Here is what I’ve learned about cloth diapering: practice makes perfect. The first time I tried to put a cloth diaper on Melanie, she peed all over it before I had closed it. So there goes that one. Just like disposables, when the baby pees on a clean diaper, you don’t just close it back up. I felt frustrated and discouraged because this happened a couple more times. But when I finally managed to get a cloth diaper on her (and she didn’t pee on it beforehand), I was overwhelmed by my sense of accomplishment. I had consulted my friend. I had conducted tons of research. I had purchased a tub of cloth-diaper safe diaper rash protectant. And there was my little girl: clad in a Hello Kitty diaper actually looking comfortable. Was I imagining it, or did she really look like she enjoyed the comfy feel of the soft diaper on her rear-end?

I have been wanting to write this blog for a while, but I wanted to be sure that my confidence was justified and that we had actually achieved a real rhythm before sharing my personal approach to cloth diapering with the world. So, now that I’m ready: here’s what I’ve learned.

1. Just like cooking, you need to have a mise en place.
Having a clear, organized set-up makes cloth diapering quick and easy. Granted, my set-up is not normally spread out on a blanket like this, but you get the point. (This is actually no different from disposable diapering–look at any nursery and you will see a designated diapering location complete with supplies near at hand.)

My cloth diapering mise en place–wet bin, baby wipes, butt balm, pre-fold cloth diaper, snappi, and pocket diaper. Everything’s in place. Wait…where’s the baby…?

2. Have a place for the wet diapers to go.
I found that by using a small-ish container for my wets (rather than, say, my Decor diaper pail) helps me keep the laundry going to avoid any unnecessary yuckiness. I also keep a baking soda tablet in the bottom of my basket, under the liner. I also do not keep dirty diapers in the basket. As soon as she poops in a cloth diaper, it is laundered along with any wets that may be ready for washing.

I bought a medium-sized plastic basket from Target and line it with a new garbage bag with each laundering.

3. Use the right kind of rash preventative.
Most “over-the-counter” diaper rash creams are off-limits for cloth diapers. If you check the ingredients and see any type of fish oil (for instance, Desitin uses cod liver oil), steer clear. Fish oils leach into the cloth diapers and make them smell fishy. Nasty. I have heard some cloth diapering mamas claim that they have never had to use any rash preventative, that cloth diapering miraculously prevents rashes on its own merits. Look. Diaper rash, like all rashes, is from an exposure to moisture and bacteria. You keep your baby in a wet diaper long enough, a rash will appear. Now what “long enough” means to your baby’s skin is really up to your baby’s skin. I prefer to prevent rash rather than have to try to cure it, so I have never diapered Melanie sans cream or balm.

I like Angel Baby Bottom Balm. It smells great and is easy to apply.

Angel Baby Bottom Balm is an amalgam of oils, so it naturally has an oily texture. I love it because Melanie’s bottom is always moisturized while simultaneously protected. She has never had diaper rash.

Angel Baby Bottom Balm may seem expensive at $9.95 for an ounce and $12.95 for two ounces. But I have found that I do not use as much balm as I do the creams, so I don’t go through the tub of balm as quickly. I also buy in bulk on Amazon.

4. Explore different diapering options.
When we were first cloth diapering, we did a combination of pre-fold diapering with pocket diapers. We simply did not use the liner insert with the pocket diaper when we were using the pre-folds. Now that she is older, we have moved on to using the liners only. The advantage of using the pre-fold with the pockets is that the pre-folds are surprisingly absorbent. This is particularly useful in the early days when there are several diaper changes in a day. Just change the pre-fold, and your little one can enjoy the adorable pocket diaper over a few diaper changes.

The snappi is particularly useful with the pre-fold. No more diaper pins!

Close-up of the snappi. See the reversed teeth? That’s the magic way it holds the diaper together while not hurting Baby.

5. If you go the pre-fold route, be sure that you know how to fold the diaper.
There are options in this arena, too. First of all, you can go really old school and use “flat fold” diapers. With the flat fold, you do have to learn how to fold the diaper several times over to create a thick enough barrier. Apparently there are women out there who can do this in a flash with enough practice. I chose to go with the “pre-folds” (Gerber, pack of 10) because they were less intimidating. These are pre-sewn so that the folding has been done for you with the layers focused in the center panel.

Pre-folds, just like flat folds, are generally meant to be “one size fits all.” Because of this, I found that Melanie needed the top folded down about an inch and a half. If you choose to go this route, just play around and go with what works for your little one.

The fold that was the best for us is called an “Angel Fold.” The Angel Fold makes gussets at the legs, which trap moisture so nicely. Before laying baby on top of the diaper, fold the edges in at an angle as shown. Place baby on top of diaper, bring center section up, and then open the outer corners to meet the back edges.

Angel Fold!

Super cute!

Secure with Snappi and off you go!

Note: if my instructions were lame and difficult to follow, see this extraordinarily helpful on-line guide to folding pre-fold diapers. This is where I learned my fold: Angel Fold. This woman also has some other folds listed here: Folding Pre-Folds. Practice different folds until you find the one that 1. you like best and 2. meets your baby’s unique potty needs.

6. Choose your diaper cover.
We love pocket diapers, but there are many many cloth diapers out there to choose from. Ours are Sunbaby Pocket diapers, size 2. We chose Sunbaby after an incredible tip from a cloth diapering friend of mine, as well as her generosity in letting us try out a few of hers before we made the financial commitment to a huge stash. (Thanks Vikki!) In fact, she has written a useful blog about cloth diapering, which is a must-read for anyone interested in going this route.

Sunbaby pocket diaper! The pocket is at the top and there are liners (with this company you can choose from a selection of liner types–we went with microfiber). The liners go inside the pocket. When we use the pre-fold, we skip the inner liner.

Sunbaby diapers, like many pocket diapers, have multiple snaps to allow for growth from 7-35 pounds!

All snapped up! Melanie was about three and a half months old in this picture, so she was on the smallest setting for her snaps.

The real reason we cloth diaper. Who can resist that adorable little rear-end?

7. Do what makes financial sense for your family.
Sunbaby pocket diapers can be purchased in bulk directly from the site or individually from sellers on Facebook. We went with new diapers (plus the three that we ended up buying from my friend after she let us try them out). We went with the set of 24 diapers and 24 inserts for $108. That comes to $4.50 for each diaper/insert pair. When there are other cloth diapers out there (I’m looking at you bumgenius) that cost upwards of $18 per single diaper, why would anyone go with a different company?? I know that $4.50 seems like a lot for a single diaper and liner pair, but we are saving tons of money on diapers every month. For the first two months before we cloth diapered Melanie, we were buying diapers every two weeks and spending between $150 and $200 on diapers a month. Why not just go ahead and spend the $108 upfront and then have the diapers all the time?

Of course, when it comes to cloth diapering, laundering becomes a major concern. I have paid close attention to our water bill over the past four months of cloth diapering, and this is what I’m seeing.

The second real reason we cloth diaper. This is our water bill from October 2011 (before Melanie was born) until this past billing cycle in August 2012.

In November 2011, before Melanie was born, our city increased our bill from $42.10 to $46. There was a newsletter that accompanied this change–it might have been to accommodate increase in pay for trash pick-up? I can’t remember. Anyway, that explains the spike in our water bill. From November 2011 (before Melanie was born, remember) until last month’s bill, our expense has consistently been $46. We started cloth diapering part-time in April, full-time in May. We have seen no change in the amount of money we are spending in water. Laundering is another obstacle to tackle in cloth diapering, so I will handle that in a different post so that I can spend the necessary time and attention on it.

8. Cloth diapering is a communal experience.
While disposable diapering is often treated like a private practice, cloth diapering requires opening and expanding horizons to include other cloth diaperers. The other cloth diapering parents out there come with advice, experience, and even gently-used hand-me-downs! I don’t know where I would be without my friend Vikki and all of her resources. Probably down several hundred dollars at least. So, type in “cloth diapering tips” in Google, follow the links that other people point to, watch videos on YouTube of people reviewing different types of cloth diapers, leave inquiring comments on people’s blogs and message boards. If I have discovered one crucial point about cloth diapering mamas, it is that they are eager to inform the uninitiated. Of course, you will trip over some of the militant crazies on your research journey, but try not to let the extremists scare you away. Their passion and zeal can be explained by their utter joy at finding what works for their family.

9. Parent according to your own personal style.
Everyone has something to say and add and opine over when it comes to parenting. I tell all new parents, given the utter expertise that I have earned in…seven…months. (*cough*) Anyway, what I tell new parents is that you have to allow yourself to do the best you can do. That does not mean perfection. It means always be ready to forgive yourself and your partner (if you are fortunate enough to have one), and remember that babies come with a fairly steep learning curve. You aren’t expected to know everything all at once. You can’t know everything all at once!

That said, when you are interested in exploring other options for your family, remember that there are all kinds of happy mediums. If you choose to cloth diaper, for instance, there is no rule that you have to cloth diaper for every situation for the rest of your life. We cloth diaper about 75% of the time, and I consider that full-time. When we are at home, Melanie is in a cloth diaper. Except at night, when she is in a disposable. Our diaper bags are stocked with disposable diapers because they take up less space. If there is a diaper change when we are out and about, we put Melanie in a disposable and bag up the cloth diaper in a deodorized trash bag. When we travel to other people’s homes, particularly if there is an overnight stay during our visit, we use disposables. My philosophy is that I refuse to impose upon someone else my personal choices. That means that I prefer not to use extra water and laundry supplies (detergents, etc.) when I have the ability to put Mel in a disposable instead. While we awaited our massive package of diapers from Sunbaby, I had three cloth diapers–so I alternated those throughout the day. If I didn’t feel like doing a load for the next day, then she was in disposables that day.

Bottom line: do what works for you.

10. Practice, practice, practice.
Whatever you do, approach diapering with patience. There are so many options, so many ways that you can interpret your child’s needs and preferences, that you have to allow yourself the time and space to learn. I was anxious and frustrated for the first couple of times that I put a cloth diaper on Melanie. But I promised myself that I would try it for a week. If I still hated it after a week, then I would send the diapers back to my friend. After the first week, I decided to give it a try for the rest of the month. If after the month I hated it, then I would return the diapers. I never hated it. The first couple of days were hard; I won’t lie. But they were hard in the way that all new parenting challenges are hard–the actual act of diapering wasn’t really that difficult. I just had to give myself the chance to learn.

Hopefully the next post I write will be about laundering cloth diapers. And hopefully that post won’t be too long in coming.

From the Other Side of the Desk: the online edition

August 21, 2012 § 1 Comment

For the past three semesters, I have been fortunate enough to teach Composition II online. If you are wondering how that works, join the club–I’m the president and founder. Over a year ago, I shook my head at the idea–how in the world can anyone teach someone to write college-level essays online?

Well, I have learned and adapted, and I am proud to say that some of my students have actually learned something.

And some of them haven’t.

Teaching online presents itself with some unique issues…but really, they aren’t that unusual.

Issue #1: student expectations versus reality
Many, but not all, of my online students seem to expect that if they take a composition course online, then the class will be easier than if it were in the classroom. I guess they reason, “well, how exactly are you supposed to learn how to write an essay over the computer?” In one of my final assignments of the semester, I ask students to write a self-evaluation of their experience in the course. And inevitably I read astonishment in those assignments: “I had no idea it would be this hard,” “I’m from another major university and thought I would take this class at this college online because it would be easier…and I was wrong,” “I really had to change my priorities and focus on this class.”

Issue #2: methods of communication
As with most major colleges and universities these days, e-mail is the official form of communication. This is particularly true for online classes. How else are we expected to reach one another? This past summer, I had a student who, for several weeks, claimed he had never received a response to his e-mails…it turned out that he had forgotten how to log in to the e-mail system. I am not sure how he managed to send the e-mails (perhaps through a different system?), but at any rate, he never did read my responses. Until he e-mailed me two weeks before the drop deadline from a different e-mail address. To his shock, he was failing the class. He was shocked because he had not received any of his graded papers from me. He was failing because he never incorporated my comments or took my advice to improve upon his argument…and he never did those things because he never saw them. I now have a handout on my course website that explains what to do in the event that a student can’t access his or her school e-mail account.

Issue #3: methods of educating
Handouts. And PowerPoint presentations. But mostly handouts. I write handouts for everything. And when I figure some images will be useful, I play with Photoshop and insert images into my handouts. (For instance, I am trying a new-to-me method of uploading essays through a plagiarism-scanning software. I took screen shots of the process for my students so that they cannot tell me that they do not know how to do it.) In addition to handouts and PowerPoint presentations, I e-mail my students once a week with lengthy announcements. They have writing assignments due every single week (either so-called Checkpoint activities or research essays); this is my way of taking attendance as well as keeping track of their development as a writer. The weekly assignments are not random–they are specifically designed either to help them reflect on their reading homework for the week, or to prepare them for the next research paper that is due. In many cases, the Checkpoint actually serves as either a brainstorming exercise or even as a drafting exercise. Finally, when I read their research papers, I write comments throughout. This is the only way I can reach out to a specific student and address his or her specific issues–unless that student seeks me out and e-mails me, of course. I can only hope that my students read my comments and apply them to the next assignment.

Issue #4: teacher expectations versus reality
The ideal online student would log-in to the course webpage on the first day of class and print off every document that is loaded there. That student would read every word, e-mail me frequently, and pay special attention to my comments. The ideal student would be so motivated that s/he would be able to complete assignments without any trouble at all, realizing that my course is not going to be “easy” simply by virtue of it taking place in an online format. The reality often demonstrates the dichotomous pair to my idealized student. In reality, I have students who don’t even see the link to my handouts that I have worked so diligently to create, in spite of my instructions for them to refer to those handouts. In reality, I have students who don’t really care that this class has the exact same standards as the on-campus class (by state requirement). In reality, I have students who couldn’t be bothered even to write a full e-mail to me when they need to reach me (it is shockingly common for students to compose e-mails without subject lines, without a greeting, and without a signature–like a text message).

But I press on anyway because teaching is teaching is teaching. And my responsibility is to provide the information in order for them to attempt to learn it, just like in the classroom.

When I first started my online teaching experience, I was grateful for the opportunity to teach for my college while also staying at home with my newborn. Now, I am grateful for the experience because it has led me to understand one truism: no teacher can control how much or how little a student learns. It is a waste of my time worrying day and night over a student who doesn’t seem to pay attention in class, or who willfully ignores my lessons. I didn’t use to believe this–I used to think I could educate anyone. I have learned through my online courses that the only thing I can really control is the material I present to them. It is up to my students to read it and to ask questions when they are confused.

This realization is both liberating and terrifying. Who wants to admit that she has no control over the outcome of her career’s goals?

But I suppose that’s the beauty in goals. They are just the elements we aim for. Goals are not promises.

The end…always the end…

August 21, 2012 § 1 Comment

Excuse me while I go a little…melancholy? I’ve got Gotye stuck in my head for some reason. Melanie went to bed a few hours ago. Robert, a couple of hours ago. And me? Well, I have insomnia. I received my final comments for my conclusion, and I thought I would work on them while I struggled to find sleep. And instead? Hello, WordPress.

There’s this folder in my hard drive. And it is called “Graduate School.”

In this folder is another folder labeled PhD, and in PhD (among all sorts of other things) is a folder labeled “Dissertation–hard drive.”

I go through phases, opening and closing all the folders you see in this image. Opening and closing all the files within those folders. Each chapter in its fourth (and final?) draft, excepting the conclusion…of course. Sigh.

I look at these icons, these reminders of a program I can’t seem to shake, and I feel. I feel so many things that I stay awake at night, feeling. It’s annoying. I sound like a hormonal high schooler. (And I should know…I was one once…half a lifetime ago. And that’s no exaggeration.)

I am so eager never to open those folders again, never to stare down “Socio-Religious Commentaries–full draft 4” or “Shakespeare Chapter–full draft 4,” dreading what I might find when I open them. Will it be as bad as I remember? Will I want to move forward, knowing that in the year since I last looked at those files my ideas have morphed and shifted in such stunning ways that I can’t even remember my central argument anymore?

There is another folder on my computer. One labeled “Melanie Lynn.” It contains the hundreds (nigh-on thousands) of photos I have taken of her since February 16th. This is the folder I instinctively open when I open my laptop–this is the one I could get lost in for hours.

I resent the one labeled “Graduate School.” It gets in the way of “Melanie Lynn.” Why isn’t “Graduate School” a distant, if it can’t be a fond, memory? I feel like a junkie hooked on a habit she desperately wants to kick…but depends on. When I think about no longer opening “Graduate School,” no longer needing to, my mind goes blank. What will that be like? Will I miss it? Will I forget that folder existed? Will I feel the urge to drag it to the trash bin, do away with it in one fell swoop?

No…I’m not that dramatic. There’s a spark of ego in me yet. There’s a bit of pride in all those drafts, all that work, all that quantifiable effort.

I’ve said it before, so believe what you’d like, but I think this is the semester. In a few months’ time, I may never open “Graduate School” again.

…never say never, though, right?

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