Evidence of a failed assignment

April 20, 2011 § 12 Comments

A couple of weeks ago, I had my annual review. And I subsequently blogged about it. Twice.

Yesterday, I completed my students’ blog grades for the semester and had Excel do all the math for me. I utilized my Average and Sum formulas, and these are the results.

Spring 2010: I think I have a different concept of "failure"....

Clearly my students failed to remember their blogs, three days a week (including Sunday nights).

Obviously they failed to complete the assignment in a satisfactory manner.

I had a horrible idea that wasted not only my students’ time but mine as well.

See?

And, in case you were curious, these are the results from the previous semesters.

Summer 2010: the pilot class

Fall 2010: section 1

Fall 2010: section 2

Blogs and Writing Pedagogy: what I should have said

April 7, 2011 § 22 Comments

“I just don’t see the blogs accomplishing your pedagogy like you think they do.”

I sit there, blinking. Crap. My jaw clenches. Don’t you cry, Amanda. Not now. Not in your annual review. I am so miserable in my job, and I’m positive he can tell. Despite my best efforts to prepare a portfolio that might suggest otherwise, I’m sure he can tell that I have been miserable for quite some time. But I’m afraid. If I tell him the truth, what consequences could I stand to risk? Might I be strung up? Would this follow me my entire life? If a potential employer asks him about my teaching experience, will I be ruined? Buck up. Seriously. Stop. Just don’t say anything. If you talk, you’ll definitely cry. Just don’t say anything.

“According to your students, they had trouble remembering to do the blogs. And it looks like they’re not worth much, only 10% of the overall grade, so doing them doesn’t really affect their overall grade.”

“Actually,” I cut in, my voice breaking. “They’re part of the 10% daily grade, which also includes quizzes.”

“Right, I saw that on your policy statement. That’s redundant. Daily quizzes and three blogs a week.”

“They’re not daily quizzes,” I try to explain. The tears are starting to rise up. Can he tell? “I give the quizzes randomly, but on average there are ten quizzes in a semester.”

“Okay, so my point is that the blogs don’t count for much, and if they’re sharing that 10% of the daily grade with a few quizzes, then they count for even less. Do you see how that gives the students little incentive to want to even do them in the first place?”

It takes a conscious effort to nod. Don’t say anything or else you’ll start crying. Shit, why are you such a baby? You’ve never been like this before in an annual review! Can’t you take criticism at all??

“Why did you come up with the blog assignment at all?”

The question surprises me. Catches me off-guard. It shouldn’t because I’ve been asked it before. Except…this is different. I think when I’ve been asked this question, it’s usually been phrased with the word how. This feels immediately judgmental. He has already made up his mind. He’s looking for a reason to change his mind. I won’t give it to him. I can’t give it to him. Not without crying.

“I-I guess I just…” I swallow. “To me, they’re like critical reading responses except the students have the opportunity to read each other’s responses and then respond to them as well. I wanted to keep the conversation going, I guess. I just….”

“Okay, but I’m not sure that it does that for you. The students remarked about how they often forgot to even do the blogs in the first place. I would recommend either eliminating the blogs entirely, reducing the number of blogs they should do in a week, or eliminate quizzes. Actually, I think I would recommend reducing the number of blogs in a week and eliminate the quizzes.”

I’m back to blinking. I really like the blogs. My students had seemed to really like the blogs. My mind is reeling. They forgot to do the blogs? But…according to my grade book, most of my students did most, if not all, of the blogs…. I have more students with perfect blog grades than students with failing blog grades. I don’t understand why they would claim that they didn’t remember to do them…. That’s not true….

The rest of the review continues in a similar vein. He pulls out the already-written assessment report, crosses out the word “eliminate” and replaces it with “reconsider” so that the final sentence now reads, “reconsider the blog assignments.” I sign the form, representing my agreement to his report. He was going to tell me to eliminate the blogs entirely…. My first out-of-the-box assignment failed. I walk out of his office and quickly get into mine, closing the door, and collecting myself. Don’t cry, not now. One more meeting. Don’t cry. I pull it together after ten minutes, and I am late to my next meeting. But I’m not in tears.

After several days of consideration, I realize now what I should have said. And now that I am beginning to apply for jobs, I realize what I did by not defending myself–if he serves as a reference, then he will deliver the same report he gave during my annual review. If I mention the blog assignment in my application materials (in spite of everything, I am still proud of it), then I now face the risk of the hiring manager asking him, “She mentioned something about blogs. What do you know about that assignment?” And what will he say? I surely can’t know, but I have a good guess.

I should have defended myself. I should have given him something else to say.

The blogs work.

1. Overall quiz grades from semesters without blogs to semesters with blogs have marked improvement. The reason? Students are reading. They have to do the readings in order to write the blogs. And if they did the readings, then they will do well on quizzes. Although I do change questions from time to time on my quizzes, the type of information I’m searching for is pretty consistent from semester to semester. My students’ daily grade average has improved.

2. They are a low-stakes assignment purposefully designed to be low-stakes. If a student forgets to write a blog once or twice, his or her daily average is not ruined. But, completing all blog assignments on time and receiving a perfect score on the blogging assignment by the end of the semester is equal to receiving perfect scores on four quizzes. It is a “gimme” assignment, but it’s supposed to be. Students are not graded on quality or content of the blog, except according to some basic standards (it should be about a specific text assigned that day and it should be analytical). They are not graded on how well they analyze (unlike their papers), but instead they are given an opportunity to practice analysis in a way that will not hurt their overall grade.

3. Class discussions are much more focused on critically analyzing the texts rather than “walking through” the plots. Students will chime in and say, “Yeah! I wrote about that on my blog!” And others will respond to that student in class. The classroom rapport is typically supportive, congenial, and encouraging. Because a student was able to sort of “try out” his or her idea on a personal blog, the idea was given space to develop so that it would be fully-formed by the time s/he brings it up in class. Even when students disagree with one another’s points, the comments are polite, respectful, and explanatory. They learn not only how to make their own points but also how to properly counter-argue against someone else’s points respectfully.

4. Papers and essay questions on exams are generally more analytical than summative. My students have physical evidence that their peers have previous knowledge of the text, so there is little reason to summarize major plot points. Because they’ve had the chance to practice analysis without fear of failure, they are often more confident in the presentation of their arguments. Because of this, I’ve been able to ask more from my students. And, for the most part, they deliver.

5. The blogs reinforce to my students the idea that one cannot be a good reader without writing, and one cannot be a good writer without reading. Although my students may have more writing assignments in a literature course than others may have, my students not only get the point but have it demonstrated to them that reading and writing are inextricable.

6. I use the blogs myself as a guide for class discussions. I usually try to peruse the blogs the day of class (since blogs are due by midnight the day before), and through that perusal I’ll see what they are confused about, what was interesting to them, what they really gravitated toward. And I will tailor class discussion based on their needs–do we need to unpack that theme more? explore that concept? Judging by exams, my students do get more out of these discussions from the blog posts.

I realize now that I should have defended myself and my blogs.

They work.

If I were to teach again, I would absolutely keep the blogs with no changes whatsoever. They would still be worth very little on the overall grade because low-stakes grades work. There would still be three blogs due every week. They would still have the same number of required words due per post.

My writing pedagogy is that through practice (constant, consistent practice), students develop basic communication skills as well as sophisticated analytical skills. Ideas develop best through writing. Texts are explored best through writing. Learning to write properly will inevitably lead to the ability to articulate an intelligent thought eloquently (either in speech or the written word). If my students are to believe that the literature was not composed within a vacuum, then I should demonstrate to them precisely how one composes devoid of a vacuum. And, thanks to the power of the Internet and new social media, blogs are a perfect method to free writing from a vacuum-like experience.

That’s what I should have said.

Take it easy, Charlie Sheen: what Montaigne would say

March 3, 2011 § 8 Comments

Writing this dissertation has introduced me to some fairly interesting thinkers, philosophers, and essayists. Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (but all the cool scholars just call him “Montaigne”) is one of those great thinkers, philosophers, and essayists. Triple-threat, baby.

Montaigne composed a great number of essays in his lifetime, several of which I am currently reading, and a few of which I intend to include in my dissertation. Montaigne is controversial for his time (late-Renaissance France) because he understands religious views (Christianity, of course) enough to appeal to a broad enough audience and to speak intelligently about topics at the fore of Christians’ thoughts; however, Montaigne was “half pagan and less than half Christian,” according to David Frame who writes the introduction of an edition of Montaigne’s travel journal. What I like about Montaigne is that he offers a fairly practical approach to some of the most incendiary of Renaissance hot topics; rather than inciting his readers to impose a sort of Fatwa upon one another, he challenges readers to approach controversy and difference with logic. (Consider that!)

As I’ve been reading a few of Montaigne’s essays, I am deeply moved by their utter pragmatism. Yes! I want to shout in the not-so-quiet-but-oh-so-public coffee shop. This is exactly it! (The venue I choose for the shouting instead, of course, is my blog. You’re welcome, general public. My apologies, blog readers.) Montaigne had no idea that, over 430 years after he published his essays, his pragmatism and liberal concepts would still hold such topical import.

Allow me to turn, as an example, to the most recent cataclysmic debacle that is Charlie Sheen’s descent into drug-induced egotism. As we well know, Charlie Sheen has littered our airwaves with a treasure trove of brilliant gems, such as calling his two live-in girlfriends his “goddesses” and revealing that because he is such a special person he deserves special accompanying privileges to participate in a polyamorous relationship with them. Whatever. Look, what two or three or five consenting adults choose to do in the privacy of their bedroom(s) is none of my business and I have absolutely no interest in passing judgment. For me, monogamy is the way to go. But maybe for someone like Charlie Sheen, he’s got to spread the love; and why not? He’s special. (And why not? Human sexuality is a complex, fluctuating, exciting tangled web.)

What does strike my ear funny, then, is the extent to which Sheen indulges his fancies. He constantly appeals to the “logic” of any who will give him a microphone that he is a special dude. But, amid all his self-aggrandizing, has Sheen lost the point of living the life of a bitchin’ Martian rock star with tiger blood and Adonis DNA, fists of fire, and the power to overcome drug addiction simply by choosing not to be addicted anymore?

I say yes, and I believe Montaigne would tend to agree. Of men who over-indulge themselves, Montaigne tells us:

“Nor do ladies titillate the man who enjoys his fill of them. He who does not give himself leisure to be thirsty cannot take pleasure in drinking.”
–Montaigne, “Of the inequality that is between us” (1572-4)

I love the second sentence in particular. “He who does not give himself leisure to be thirsty cannot take pleasure in drinking.” If you would please indulge me, I would like a moment to speak directly to Warlock Sheen.

Your Highness, please note that Montaigne speaks figuratively here. Obviously, as I am sure you understand with your utterly passionate, bi-winning mind, Montaigne does not imply that 1. a man should turn to drinking any substance in particular (except, perhaps, that of “life” in general) and 2. a man should binge once he has made himself thirsty.

Thanks for your consideration,
The utterly unworthy and not special A.Hab.

P.S. I also do not have the genetic code of which you yourself are capable of boasting. Please excuse any indolence in the preceding message.

P.P.S. Yes, I read the AV Club article that reminds us all to laugh a little more at your intended dark humor and sarcasm. Β I get the jokes. Β They’re just not that funny.

 

What I do believe Montaigne instructs us to do, however, is to live in moderation. Appreciate our unique Selves as far as that appreciation does not intrude upon others’ appreciation of their unique selves. When Sheen makes grandiose claims about his employers and network, he oversteps his own boundaries and ignores the victims of his vitriol their needs and desires. He utterly misinterprets what is an appeal to logic and an encouragement for medical assistance as judgment, condescension, and trauma.

Although I do believe the media is purposefully preying on the public’s fascination with a good, old-fashioned self-destructive implosion, I think what can ultimately be gleaned from all this manic nonsense is that Charlie Sheen and the media both need to back the hell up off each other. We all need a chance to feel thirsty in order to appreciate what progress Sheen makes (whether real or imagined–at this point, it doesn’t much matter to me). The media needs to stop indulging the public’s binge-drinking of Sheen’s downward spiral. And Sheen needs to stop indulging his own ego-binge as well.

I’ll leave this entry on another couple of thoughts by Montaigne:

“There is nothing so hampering, so cloying, as abundance. […] And besides, I believe that this luster of greatness brings no slight drawbacks to the enjoyment of the sweeter pleasures: they are too much in the limelight and exposed to view.”
–Montaigne, “Of the inequality that is between us,” 1572-4

And perhaps not to empathize with Sheen more than is deserved but more to understand our fascination with celebrity:

“And, I know not why, the great are more obliged than we to hide and cover up their faults. For what in us is indiscretion, in them the people judge to be tyranny, contempt, and disdain for the laws; and it is true that besides their normal pleasure from vice, it seems that they take an added pleasure in insulting public observances and trampling them underfoot.”
–Montaigne, “Of the inequality that is between us,” 1572-4

(and both a response to Montaigne and taking it one little step further…which is what I’ve been saying from the very beginning of this nonsense.)

A fair warning to all readers, old and new

February 28, 2011 § 12 Comments

For some reason or another, these past four days have been turning up A.Hab.! Completely undeservedly, I am receiving recognition from a few sources, which has brought with it a ton of new readers (I’ve either gotten close to or broken past the 100-views-a-day barrier for three days). I am astonished and thrilled. So, to all new readers: Welcome! I hope you enjoy what you see here, and I hope even more that I can live up to your expectations! πŸ˜‰

The places that I’ve gotten some recognition?

Well, it all started when the Social Media Coordinator for Martinelli’s, Warren, asked to share my story on the Facebook. Shock and awe! Someone at Martinelli’s saw my love-note to their apple juice in the glass bottles. It was…surreal. I’ve never been noticed by a company before, except, say, if I forgot to mail my bill payment on time or something. πŸ˜‰

And then, in honor of the Oscars and yearbook season, Tori Nelson at The Ramblings honored me with the awesome superlative of “Most Likely to Rid the World of Ugly Words.” Shock and awe, again! I never received a superlative when I was in grade school. Ever. Sure, I was friends with the people who were “Most Likely to Succeed” and “Best Study Partner” (I wasn’t the friend of the “Best Dressed” and “Cutest Couple” recipients…class distinction, you know). So, many thanks to Tori for the sweet superlative! It means so much to me that you chose to recognize me for your first round of “The Sunday Paper” (where, weekly, she will point her own readers to her favorite blogs). So sweet! And, since turnabout is fair play, especially in the blogosphere: all my readers–go read Tori’s blog. Forthwith! You will not regret it! She is a hysterical, stay-at-home mom of 1-year-old Thomas, and invites her readers to laugh with (and sometimes at) her daily grind. She always puts a smile on my face!

So, then, after that stunning experience, I wake up this morning and find that the lovely Lisa Kramer at Woman Wielding Words (I loooove that alliterative title!) also gave me a shout-out! She credits me for being an honest writer–and I responded to her that it was a difficult choice to make, but one that I knew I would have to firmly decide. If I chose not to be honest with my experiences, then I would be faced either with lying or misrepresenting my life. If I chose to be honest, then I could potentially help someone else who is going through this…and also potentially get myself in some trouble. (That’s why I write this quasi-anonymously–you may notice that if someone writes a comment revealing my location, I will edit that comment. I have dropped the hint a few times, but it’s not something that I want splashed about the page…just yet. Give me until August, please. :)) It is greatly important to me that I honestly discuss especially my love-hate relationship with academia; it turned out that when I started to explore my true feelings, I discovered that I am not alone. I wish I had known that I wasn’t alone earlier. That’s the point of this blog. So, a huge thanks goes out to Lisa for recognizing that and for sharing my blog with her readers as well; it’s just amazing to me how far a little shout-out can go in this blogosphere of ours. And, with that in mind, please give Lisa’s blog a perusal. Reading her blog is like going through a private, personal stash of thoughts and mementos collected in a box. I thoroughly enjoy her writing–she’s a real writer’s writer; I don’t think she can help it! πŸ™‚ Her writing style is accessible, witty, and enjoyable. Some of her favorite themes to revisit are her experiences as a professor of theater, her beautiful daughter Sarah, and her own fiction. Believe me: you will love them all!

Thanks again to all of these generous shout-outs in these past few days. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve the recognition all of a sudden, but I truly truly appreciate it!

Now, that said…I want to give my old and new readers a fair warning.

As many of you know and others of you will soon discover, I am writing a dissertation. This is a book-length project of torture. I have given myself a deadline of March 11th to complete the next chapter. That’s two weeks to write an entire chapter. This is not an easy task to accomplish and will probably require me to write more than 2 pages a day–probably to achieve my goal, I’ll need to write at least 4-5 new pages a day (around 1000-1500 words). This means two things: 1. I am going to continue to participate in the PostADay challenge, so there will be new entries every single day, but they may not be particularly riveting or insightful, and 2. I am going to fail hard at keeping up with commenting on new blog posts, and I will also fail hard at keeping up with responding to your comments on my blog as well. Please know that I am reading your blogs, I am loving your blogs, and that I truly appreciate your comments. I will try so very hard to catch up at some point, but please do not take my lack of communication personally. Give me until after March 11th, and I should be able to return to normal…at least for a little while.

In the meantime, seriously, check out my blog roll and fall in love with these same writers I adore. They will entertain you and bring you great joy and personal validation. πŸ™‚

And they ask me, “what are you so afraid of?”

February 16, 2011 § 17 Comments

This woman is braver than I am:
Pa. teacher strikes nerve with ‘lazy whiners’ blog

And so is this woman, who first shared the above article:
Dr. Amanda Morris of “American Puzzle

I have about five minutes to blog today because I have quite a lot of work on my plate, but I know this topic is worth weighing in on.

When I was younger, teaching to me was something out of a movie. I wanted to be Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society. So desperately. I wanted to inspire my students to read poetry from the tops of their lungs while they traipsed through the quad, completely oblivious to the (envious) open-mouthed stares they received from other students. I wanted to turn them into proud, beautiful, Bard-quoting, theater-loving, free-thinking nerds. I wanted to be that reference point they would always recall when reminiscing on the most influential forces of their lifetimes.

That was silly. It ignores the entire ending of the movie where Mr. Keating is canned for his creative methods. It truly was a fantasy; it was not reality.

Reality is much, much darker. Much, much scarier. To me anyway.

Some people are made of the stuff it takes to play the teaching game. Some people are not. Teachers are not the people who simply “can’t do.” No no. Never kid yourself into believing that teaching is easy-peasy, carefree glorified babysitting. Sure, sometimes it does feel like babysitting. But teaching is increasingly less about the time in the classroom and more about time outside of the classroom, particularly in terms of higher education. Teachers are researchers. They are writers. They are published authors. (Hopefully.) They are book reviewers. They are conference speakers. They are guest lecturers. They are committee bitches. (All of you know it’s true.) These qualifications that I’ve mentioned are just a smattering of the most common requirements for tenure-track faculty members…anywhere in the United States. This, not the classroom experience, but this is the life for which I’ve been trained these past six years.

The teacher featured in this article, Natalie Munroe, is thirty years old. I’ll be thirty years old in a matter of months. To me, this is topical, folks, in more ways than one. Munroe has been suspended (with pay, the lucky scamp) from her job teaching English at Central Bucks East High School in Feasterville, Pennsylvania. Although the only way I would teach a group of high schoolers would be if I were forcibly dragged there and held at gunpoint to educate, I can still relate to Munroe’s problem here.

You see, Munroe has on her hands a bunch of disengaged, disinterested, entitled, lazy students. And she is getting in trouble for calling them those things anonymously in public…on her blog. Apparently her students located her blog, identified the writer as their teacher, and presented the most scandalous entry (which has since been taken down) as evidence to their principal. (Although, let’s be honest here–it was probably the parents who encouraged their kids to raise a big stink.) I can relate to Munroe in ways that I wish I couldn’t–I have had the college version of her students. And they are horrible. They truly are. You want to know what is a nightmare to teach? A student who actually says to your face, “I am paying your salary, and you need to give me an A.” This is a direct quote from an angry student meeting in my office in Spring 2007. How do you teach that? If you have the magical answer, I beg you to tell me because after six years, I got nothing.

Do you know what it feels like to be scared of your employers and your clients every single day? Do you know what it means to wake up in the morning with a pit in your stomach so heavy that you can’t bring yourself to eat breakfast? Do you know how it destroys self-confidence to have to whisper to yourself before walking into work, “Take a deep breath. It’s okay”? Every day. I’m not talking about on those occasions when you have to talk to an irate client or make a presentation or beg for a raise. I’m talking about the daily grind. You’re just going about your normal routine, and you’re utterly petrified.

That’s my reality.

Why don’t I want to teach? Because I am afraid. My friends, these women, Munroe and Dr. Morris, are brave because they know they do no wrong when they exercise their freedom of speech, protect specific identities, and call attention to glaring problems in their work. I am a coward because I am shaking just writing this blog post. Have I been known to blast a student on my blog before? Absolutely. It’s happened more than once. Do I ever use names? Absolutely not. But my first inclination after reading Munroe’s story was to go through my entire blog history and delete every post (or at least password protect them) that even mentions displeasure in the classroom. I won’t do that. I’m more foolhardy than that.

But I am afraid.

For me, this raises a complicated question. One of her former students says that Munroe’s blog was within her rights to put up, but that she behaved in a way that was inappropriate for a teacher.

Here’s my question: if Munroe had broken a law, fine. Punish her. String her up. But just because she has behaved in a way that is out-of-line with the fantasy image people have of their educators? Is that a fireable offense? Really? (Granted, she hasn’t been fired yet…and her lawyer is prepared to help her fight back if she is fired.) At the very least, is it a punishable offense? She never directly alluded to her full name, her school, or her students. According to FERPA, that’s okay. As Dr. Morris points out, as long as there is no clause in her contract stating that she cannot talk about work on-line, then it seems Munroe has not broken any laws.

And believe me, friends, other professionals behave “inappropriately” too. You think your medical staff doesn’t laugh over crazy stories from work? Of course they do. Would it insult you to know that your favorite nurse told her friends about your hilarious diatribe when you awoke from surgery? Probably. But if she doesn’t say your name or give any details about the procedure, then would you recommend she be fired? (If you answered “yes,” then the reality is that you are over-sensitive. Professionals are also people who require a release valve, too. Just as customer service reps share horror stories of terrible complaints, those in the professional world also need to release a little steam.)

These people are not saints. And it’s sweet of the general public to imagine they are. Sweet…but delusional.

But nevertheless, I’m scared. When I know I have an angry student, for instance, I actually will sit in my office, visibly shivering (at least in my extremities) every time I hear the elevator bell ding outside my door. Just how angry is this student? Is this a student who will come to my office and sit and listen patiently while I explain, yet again, the difference between a B paper and a C paper? Will they come in and scream at me for an hour? Will they stand over me, using their height, musculature, and tonal inflection as threats until I relent and give them the grade they want? (These have all happened…more than once. The second one is the most common, or at least a mixture of the first and second.) Ding! the elevator cheerily announces another arrival. Or…is this the last straw? Have I angered the wrong student? Will this student come into my office with something else in mind? Will I go home tonight? (I was particularly frightened last semester when I held evening office hours that extended past the close of the main English department office…and subsequently past when most people were around to bear witness.)

“Grade complaint,” an e-mail subject line announces from one of my higher-ups; this time it’s the one in charge of world literature studies. Immediately, my blood pressure spikes…and then plummets. I am filled with dread. I want to curl up and fake death. Maybe it’ll go away if I don’t acknowledge it? Is my coordinator angry with me? Am I in trouble? What did this student claim about me? Will I lose my assistantship? I open the e-mail…and I read a simple message, “Please handle this.” Below my coordinator has pasted an angry student’s initial communication. I want to cry. I want to hit things. I want to run away. I am not the things this student claims I am. I am not stereotyping him based on his religion. I am not grading him based on a difference of opinion. I never refused to meet with him. I never even knew he wanted to meet in the first place. But I have to handle it because my coordinator has asked me to. So, I do. And I meet with the angry student. And he proceeds to scream at me for an hour…until I finally have a chance to calmly respond to him and in fifteen minutes he’s gone, muttering obscenities under his breath. Will he come back? Will he go over my head again? When will this fight be over?

I e-mail the Provost to gain some understanding in regards to the university’s attendance policy, after an e-mail has gone out to the entire student body seemingly giving them permission to skip classes. In polite, professional terms, I ask the Provost as much. He responds, CC’ing my dissertation director (who also happens to be one of the deans in my department’s college), my department head, and his secretary. His response is curt, “encouraging me” to take into account special circumstances when I consider my attendance policy. My blood runs cold. I feel like a child who’s in trouble with her parents. How did he know who my dissertation director was? (It doesn’t occur to me until two hours later that he’s CC’d her because she’s one of the deans, not because she’s associated with me in any particular way.) But am I in trouble for bothering the Provost with an apparently stupid question? What happens if I stick to my initial attendance policy and don’t make special allowances? Will I face consequences? Could this become a bigger issue if I fight this thing? Or should I just lay down, against my ethics, and go with it? I go with it. Because I’m scared.

Yesterday, I taught Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. As a white female teacher in the South, I do struggle to teach slave narratives. Not only do I have a great deal of white guilt (something that these days seems silly and just as inappropriate as racism), but I also never know what would cross lines and get me in trouble. As I rode the bus in to campus at 7 in the morning, it dawned on me: the institution of slavery and the subsequent slave revolts (both on the docket for discussion) were really just governed within the culture of fear. I introduced this concept to my students, explaining what it means to govern one’s subordinates by threatening them, wanting to maintain power over them because one is fearsome. We imagined what a “culture of fear” classroom would look like–what my “culture of fear” classroom would look like. And we laughed at how ridiculous a notion it was.

I do not want to imply that I feel as though I have been governed by a culture of fear. That is not it at all. I have never actually been threatened or verbally abused or anything similar to those lines. But I behave as though I have been. My fear comes from within…and it’s not going anywhere. Not even when I get e-mails like this one from yesterday evening: “Thank you for your input, I really appreciate that you are helping us out with our papers.” It’s sweet. It warmed my heart. I even smiled. But it did nothing to ease my fearfulness.

To any and all educators who are brave enough to be honest about the problem with students today: I support you and applaud you…from behind the screen. Please don’t tell anyone that I’m there.

(I categorized this post under “bullying” for a very specific reason. In many ways, educators are subtly bullied by their administration, their students’ parents, as well as their students. I don’t believe this should go unnoticed, but I don’t know what to do about it.)

Self-promotion, thy name is A.Hab.

February 3, 2011 § 6 Comments

I seriously need to sit down and work on those “rainy day” posts, for days such as today. I’m feeling pretty yucky, but I (smart girl) finished my dissertation writing commitment yesterday evening and can now curl up on the couch and die. Well, not die. Just lie in misery.

Another thing I did last night was create a Facebook page for this blog! I also learned how to post a badge for my blog’s Facebook page, which is right there on the right-hand side. Although it feels a little like I’m self-important, I also think it might be a great way for you all to keep connected to the blog. I might not be on the Facebook any more, but that doesn’t mean that my readers aren’t. As some of you know, I’ve been using one of our mutual friends as my Facebook promoter. Unfortunately, I can’t pay her to live like Don King, so I thought I should make my own promotion.

That hair style is just too rich for my blood....

If you have a Facebook account, then you might want to “like” this page so that you can stay updated on new blog posts. If you don’t have a Facebook account, then you should probably get one so that you can “like” this page and stay updated on new posts. …heh, just kidding. Sort of.

Photo credit: The Cleve Scene

Intentional Informing: revisited

January 5, 2011 § 8 Comments

So, my topic for today was about my nearly nonexistent digital presence. In a comment response to my post, my husband shared an article he found on The Daily Mail, and I just can’t let it sit in a comment that might get little to no attention. Before you read my take on it, you should read the article first: “Took all my pills, bye bye”: Woman commits suicide on Facebook…and none of her 1,048 online friends help.

My take: Simone Back intentionally informed her supposed network of “friends.” This is something of a misnomer that Facebook is entirely culpable for–who do you know who can honestly say they have over 1,000 friends? Unfortunately the word “friends” implies something here. It implies a mutual contract of respect, love, support, and compassion. In real life, outside of the digital world, this is a privilege that we bestow upon people with intention. For instance, some people will qualify those in their lives as “friends,” “colleagues,” “peers,” “acquaintances,” “neighbors,” “family” (blood related or not), etc. I myself do this as well. And that is healthy.

Now, is it guaranteed that Simone Back expected her 1,048 “friends” to rush to her aid, to at least call 999 on her behalf, to even ask if she wanted to talk? Who knows? She’s dead. We can’t ask her what she wanted when she posted that status. Is it likely that she expected her “friends” to taunt her publicly on her profile within the very thread where she announces her intention to end her life? Probably not. And is it really the responsibility of this 47-year-old woman’s 1,048 “friends” to keep her from swallowing all of her pills and make sure her life was all rainbows and sunshine? Of course not.

But what should they have done? What does social media, the use of the word “friend” suggest they should have done?

In my book: those who lived nearby should have rushed to her home or called 999. They should have informed her mother earlier than the following day.

I hope that everyone who reads that article is chilled by these people’s attitudes and inaction. I do not intend to have a miserable day or have some form of an emergency, but I do damn well expect my friends to be there to offer support and compassion when I need it.

Any one else want to weigh in?

Intentional Informing: my nearly nonexistent digital presence

January 5, 2011 § 15 Comments

On May 30, 2010, I permanently deleted my Facebook account. Of course, there were annoying hoops to jump through (such as waiting two weeks before attempting to log in again because that would cancel the process), but I finally managed to succeed. The two-week rule couldn’t have come at a better time for me: my sister’s bachelorette party was within the first week, her wedding was in the second week, and then my friends and I took a brief trip to an ashram in the Bahamas the week after that. It’s been six months since I freed myself from Facebook’s clutches, and I’m doing quite well.

Yes, yes, in the beginning I went through a form of withdrawal. I was the kind of person who was online All. The. Time. In a way, I was abusing Facebook. No, I didn’t get started on Farmville (because I absolutely refused to give myself one more form of “virtual reality” to distract me from real reality). But I was the person who constantly refreshed her News Feed in order to see if people were online or responding to something clever I said or a question I asked; I commented on statuses that divulged daily mundaneness like, “I changed my fabric softener today. We’ll see how I like it” or “I hate doing laundry” or “I don’t feel like grading today.” I was thinking in the third person: “A.Hab. wishes she were with Robert right now” or “A.Hab. really needs to focus on her work” or “A.Hab. is getting extremely worried about herself for thinking in third person.”

What occurred to me was that 1. I’m not so super interesting that my friends are waiting with bated breath about my thoughts every single second of every single day. 2. I’m not that important that I should feel compelled to bestow upon my friends every thought that crosses my mind. 3. Although I love them, I am not interested in those teensy little mundane thoughts that my friends shared with me (well…shared with all of us).

I decided that I wanted to get back to a more intimate form of communication. For instance, if my best friend wanted me, A.Hab., to know that she changed her fabric softener or that she didn’t feel like grading in that moment, then she could seek me out. Text me, call me, e-mail me. (By the way, I do realize it’s pretty hysterical that I’m considering e-mailing and texting a more intimate form of communication.) I wanted to reestablish intentional informing. If I specifically am supposed to know a detail about my friend’s life, then I will be intentionally informed. And the same goes for me–if I want a specific friend (or a specific group of friends) to know something about me, then I will intentionally inform them. They won’t just happen to find out because they logged on to some website that day.

And, I’ll tell you what: it’s working. In the beginning, I felt out of the loop because I didn’t know every single detail of my friends’ lives right that second. And, yes, I was asking a lot from my friends, too. Rather than conveniently convey a piece of information in one spot to all of their friends, they would have to make special arrangements for me. But those people who actually do want me to know something have had no problem informing me. I feel as though I have regained control over not only my privacy but also my reception and passing of information.

That brings me to the blog. But A.Hab., you might say, aren’t you being just a mite hypocritical since you have a blog and all?

Maybe. Maybe it’s hypocritical. But even if it is, I still feel completely in control over what I share, how much I share, and with whom I share that information. For instance, I tend to share publicly things that I have already discussed with the people I wanted to inform first. I also don’t use my blog as a dumping place for conversation-halting thoughts like, “I hate the rain.” If I want to blog about how much I hate the rain, maybe I’ll post a series of traumatizing memories about the times I’ve hydroplaned.

This is my point: whether you choose to have a nearly nonexistent digital presence or a fully existent one, inform with intention. Inform, fully aware of the consequences of that informing, with an intent to do something (to connect with other people, to seek support, to offer support, to educate, to humor). Don’t just share every little thing. Your thoughts, your experiences, your ideas are important enough to pass through a filter first. If you don’t feel that the general public has earned the right to be aware of your information, then don’t share it with the general public. If you believe that the general public stands to gain something from your ideas, then by all means share. If you believe that you stand to gain something by sharing your ideas with the general public, then of course share.

I think it’s time for us to take charge of this Information Superhighway. We don’t have to just inform because we have the ability to anymore.

So, what say ye, people of the Interwebs? Is there a place for intentional informing in this news-happy world, or is ol’ A.Hab. barking up the wrong tree?

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