Archive for the ‘reflection’ Category

Finals week, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the end of the semester

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Finals week. I think I dislike it more than my students do. My students are mostly just stressed out during it. In fact, I had one student come to my office today who looked scared to death, though why I am not sure. I am certainly not intimidating and he did pretty well in my course, but maybe he just had a really rough week and was expecting more bad news, but he did not receive bad news, at least not from me.

But I do think I hate finals week more than my students do and I mainly hate it because of emails. Emails that don’t stop. The ping like sound my email makes when I get a new message scares the crap out of me during finals week. I always think, oh I hope that is an assignment. I hope that is just an assignment. 95% of the time it is just an assignment. 4% of the time it is something the university sent me that I don’t care about, minus that health insurance email with the $1212 dollar premium that we have to pay IN FULL by JAN 20TH if we want to sign up, which is ridiculous. (Where is your Christmas spirit, oh University I attend? It certainly isn’t located in that insurance premium and so I am getting insurance elsewhere, f*ck you very much.) But it is those 1% of times where it is a question that goes something like this–

Dear Ms J, (my students usually call me by my first name because I ask them to, but they get formal at this point, which tells me I have taught them something)

I noticed in the Blackboard gradebook that my grade is two points away from an A in your course. Would it be possible for me to revise something now, or perhaps turn in extra credit? I really want an A. (Honestly, they say it all much nicer than this sounds, usually. They are impressively cordial in their rhetoric with this request. Most requests sound professional in tone.)

Signed,

Student

I usually respond with a not as snarky as I could be reply saying all my grades are final, thanks for the email, good job in the math, and we all really want something, but all final grades are final. Like I want to be able to afford a nicer apartment, but since I live mainly off a graduate student stipend, no. It doesn’t happen for me, at least not right now.

I have to admit that I do commend the students for trying. My closest friends will tell you that I can be a pro at trying to find ways and means to get out of things, so I understand working every angle, especially when it involves GPAs, graduate school applications, and being able to get into your major program. I also understand that grades don’t say poo about anyone’s intellectual capacities. Grades just tell you the quality of your performance during that semester and they are completely subjective since another human being, a teacher, evaluates your work. Sometimes I tell students this, just as a pick me up, just as a reality check. It usually helps.

This semester I did something different to curb these emails about extra credit, more points, and grade alterations, and so far it has worked, though perhaps now that I say this I’ll get an email. I put a policy in my syllabus basically saying that all final grades are just that–they are final grades. I don’t give extra credit. I don’t boost final grades up by one point because if I do that for one person, might as well do it for everyone. And revisions are always due by the final exam time. That is it. Done. El Fin. Enjoy winter break. Wear a warm coat.

Because not everyone reads an 8 page syllabus (and also, I can kind of understand that as well, though I would say that most of my students, at some point, do look through the syllabus), I repeated the all final grades are final in end of semester email announcements and Blackboard announcements. I just said, this policy is in the syllabus, please be aware of it. Thank you. Don’t forget the warm coat.

So far, it has worked. I haven’t received emails aside from wonky news about insurance, student assignments that have already been graded, and some really nice student thank you messages. So far, everything has been cool.

My students also did really well this semester, too, so maybe I didn’t need that new policy at all. Maybe it would have worked out OK. I don’t know. All I know is that I do think I hate finals week far more than my students do because it is the time when people ask for things they should have asked for weeks ago and is the time when you have to deliver either really good news or really bad news as the train speeds out of the station. It is like trying to save animals from a burning building. It is awful sometimes doing this kind of work because you don’t want to leave anyone at the station or leave anyone in that burning building, but sometimes it cannot be helped because you have to be fair and equitable to everyone. At least I believe that in the end, as long as the work gets done, the time and effort does pay off.

Quiet Rebellion

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

For one reason or another, I’ve spent the last couple days mulling over why I don’t listen to people very well. To be real with you, I’ve kind of been like this for as long as I have been conscious. Here are a couple examples:

  • As a young child, I was basically told by a teacher that I would never get anywhere in life, much less graduate from high school. (Long story–I later learned she told my parents the same thing). I didn’t listen to her. I remember thinking something along the lines that I don’t have to believe what this person is telling me, and rightly so. Perhaps this isn’t the best example, but I think as a young person being told something like that can become pretty damn debilitating to someone, if you let it. And maybe i am being a uncaring hardass by putting it that way, because I do know a child is very vulnerable to suggestions, but I am just very stubborn. I just chose not to believe her.
  • If someone says that I cannot do [insert activity here], I often do it anyway. For example, if someone says I cannot have one more drink I’ll be like puhleeze, and order one more drink. And then drink it quickly. Right in front of them. For effect. And because I can.

But the question I have been asking myself is why. Why do I not listen to people sometimes? Sure, I do listen to people more often than not, I think, or at least I think I do. As a graduate student, I have to follow directions. As a teacher, I have to follow university and department protocols. As a grant writer, I have to carefully follow funder’s requests. I do these things. I have deadlines. I meet them. But all the same, there is this strong part of me that says IDGAF all in bold, harsh language.

I know that sounds angry in tone, and sometimes it is. But mostly I am testing the response, or I want to find out mistakes for myself. I don’t always trust (in) your expertise because you are different and handle things differently than I do and goddamn, I will do it my own way whether you like it or not. And maybe, I do it because I know you won’t like it and that just might make you a little mad. Just a little. Just enough to get your attention.  Along with this, I am also stubborn. I am stubborn to a point it isn’t even helpful for me to be stubborn sometimes. My stubbornness, actually, is something that I think might be genetic since it seems to run in my family, like my stature and my eventual hearing loss that has already started to crop up in my early 30s. I think stubbornness is built into the brains of everyone in my family. (Of course, this isn’t true. It is a total learned behavior.)

I also started to consider that idea that maybe I just think that I am above the law, in one way or another, but decided that no, that wasn’t true. The rules, as much as I sometimes despise them, still apply to me. It makes no sense that they wouldn’t apply to me. And when it comes to where I am in life (whatever that means), I think I am barely just keeping up with everyone else, because as a Millennial, I have been taught that not even good is good enough. Why have the medium size fries when you can have the large? Why not get the combo meal?  Honestly, society has taught millennials that they/we aren’t good enough and need to do more and while at it, why not take this unpaid internship and do some good work for us and prove that you are not lazy slouches.

I think there is just a deep part of me that thrives on rebellion, in whatever form it is in. Even if it is a quiet rebellion where I subtly moved the chess piece when you weren’t looking and when it wasn’t my turn. When you finally notice, you just see me there, polite and smiling, and asking you about your day. It sounds a little passive-aggressive, but I am midwestern, so I’ll take that charge. But so far, this thriving on rebellion is the best reason I have come up with, considering all the other possibilities I have so far considered. And quiet rebellion is, honestly, what helps me get through the day.

Minnesota State University Moorhead as something like home

Friday, December 6th, 2013

One of my alma maters, Minnesota State University Moorhead, has seen a lot of news lately, and most of it not good. Words like retrenchment, layoffs, and re-rostering are making the rounds and out from this are faculty comments about how all this movement feels not like forward momentums, but instead like a death, like they are “demoralized and decimated” and the most I can do is tweet about it when I receive updates from a friend or read a news article.

Minnesota State University Moorhead really was my home away from home for a long time and even now, while my current university is not MSUM, it is still MSU Moorhead that feels like home. I suppose that is why these cuts, this poor rhetoric that is being used, and my friends’ reactions hit me so hard.

I do feel as if I am going through the stages of grief.

To understand, I probably have to explain a little bit about why I am so attached to the university. I didn’t start my undergraduate years there, but oddly enough I started my undergraduate career at the university I now attend for my doctorate. I hated my first university as an undergraduate because, as I said back then, “everyone [here] wears khakis.” What I meant by that is that a lot of my peers there seemed a lot more middle class than I was. Their parents sent them beer money. They wore nicer clothes. They drove semi-decent cars that didn’t break down constantly. They seemed different to me.

On top of this, the arts wasn’t highly valued, and still isn’t, at the university I attended the first time, and attend now, in my last years as a student. I wanted to go to a place where there were writers, people who valued the liberal arts, and so I transferred to Minnesota State University Moorhead, though I played around with other schools half-heartedly, like University of Montana at Missoula and Evergreen State College.  But everyone, including me, knew I would stick around, and so I left for MSUM.

I loved it. I absolutely loved it. And while there were many different reasons I loved it, such as the academics, the faculty, the friends I made, even the job at the library I had there, it did serve as a catalyst for a lot of changes in my life. It gave me time and place and introspection.

For one, it got me out of the dump that I had found myself in at the first university where all I did was party and sometimes attend classes. I also didn’t have any strong friendships, even after two years, at my first university I attended as an undergraduate because I just couldn’t find a place I fit in, though I did try everything, even attending club meetings and getting involved in other on-campus activities. But on my first day at MSUM, I had already met people who would turn out to be friends for life, or friends that i still have even today. In fact, I met my best friend my first semester at MSUM.

I also loved the faculty. I remember the year I left for graduate school for my MA program, asking my advisor if I would ever feel so at home at another university. She said I might not. She said I might never find the connections there as I did here, at MSU Moorhead. It bummed me out, and I didn’t want to believe her, but I realize now she was right. While I like my present university, and I respect and trust my colleagues, I don’t feel that same sense of connection with most of them, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy knowing them and working with them and want to learn from them. For example, my advisor is someone who I would love to be someday, even just a little bit, even if I just come away with a lot of his attitude and a little bit of his smarts, I would be happy. The rest of my committee is fantastic and smart as well, and I am very lucky to have the opportunity to work with them. They are amazing people.

But they will never take the place of the people I met at MSU Moorhead.

I hope that doesn’t sound unfair in any way or that it doesn’t seem that I haven’t made connections with people while a PhD student. I have. And these connections get better and better all the time. But even after I am done with school for good, and walk away with what I hope to have, I don’t think where I am now will ever take the place of MSU Moorhead. I don’t know how they could.

On Bullies and why you try to be better, but aren’t.

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

I read this Jezebel article today and would like to tell you I had some feelings about it, and I don’t often like to have feelings, though I have to admit I have them from time to time. I just want you to know I don’t particularly like having feelings, though that isn’t the point. The point is that I know exactly, like to a T, how this girl feels, or I am pretty sure that I do. I was bullied in junior high as well, and that was probably where bullying happened the worst. Just to set the stage for that, one instance of bullying had a boy from my class write in ink on my favorite denim jacket a sarcastic “I’m cool.” I didn’t know about it until I got home and saw it on the back and was mortified. I remember going down to the basement laundry room to wash it off and hoping to goodness that my mom never found out about it.

There also were the “cool girls” or whatever (I doubt they had a name like “The Pink Ladies” of Grease) who I remember looking at me at school daily like I had something gross stuck to my face or caught in my hair. While I could recount awful, awful things these girls did, I’ll share a less traumatizing experience. When my friends decided to try out for cheerleading, after the “cool girls” responded negatively toward cheerleading, I remember one of the cool girls coming up to me and asking “are you trying out for cheerleading, too” in that tone that told me if I was about to try out for cheerleading, I just made her question every view of reality she had. No, I remember saying,  but didn’t bother explaining to her that I had no desire to wave a pom pom around.

Then I moved to a new school, so I have no idea what happened to any of these people, though I assume many of them just live in the town we lived in then, with families and kids and boring almost-upper-middle-class lives. The only thing I do know is that the girl who asked me if I was also trying out for cheerleading ended up being diagnosed with MS later in her life, along with her mom, and she does a lot with MS Walks for Life and other MS-related organizations in our community. Even though she is doing good works, I still wanna say, “karma is a bitch, isn’t it?” even though that is an awful thing to say and Karma exists throughout lives, and so on and so forth, if you have ever read anything about karma. So the karma comment is kind of irrelevant, and honestly, it is terrible she has such a debilitating illness.

Though bullies don’t just reside in junior high, as they also reside in adulthood. The thing is, bullying is way more passive-aggressive in adulthood and it is so much weirder, less in your face, and more regulated to people’s closed offices and some people simply call it gossip, though I think gossip can become a bullying mechanism as well. The thing is, as an adult, you know it goes on, but the less it becomes an issue, or a painful issue, though I would say it still sucks.  And I often wonder why they bother anyway. Is there something they are missing in their own lives? Are they upset by something you got that they didn’t? It must be something like jealousy, right? Or maybe just stunted personal growth? The good news is, of course, it is easier to avoid as an adult. You can do tons of things to never hear about it, and that is I think what makes bullying different now as compared to bullying in junior high.

But, in the linked article, the author talks about that even though our old bullying tormentors have “moved on” as have we and now have their own lives, babies, etc, there is still a part of you that wants to respond thusly (and I’m having a lengthy quote here because I wanna give some context):

Sure she had the backyard trampoline and the boy-girl parties I coveted when we were 13, but some day my hard work would pay off and I’d leave town for a good college. I’d end up living somewhere far away from Wisconsin, somewhere like Boston (I was obsessed with Boston, due to bricks being a sign of class and also not knowing what class was). One day I’d be working a job I loved, I’d have a life rich with experience, a million stories for dinner parties. I’d travel. I’d know things. I’d know interesting people. I’d experience things she’d never experience. And that’s how I’d “win.”

But part and parcel to my “winning” was my middle school tormenter agreeing with my definition of what it means to live a better life than another person.  I’ve traveled the country and lived abroad, but I’ve had a string of relationships that didn’t work out including a failed engagement. I graduated from college and my job sitch is fantastic, but I live in an apartment around the corner from a liquor store that has to buzz you into the room where you can buy wine. I couldn’t be happier with my personal life, but I don’t own a car. I live in one of the most exciting places in the world and can do almost whatever I want almost whenever I want it, but I’m childless. I met all three Hanson brothers one time during a shoot and one of them winked at me but I’ve never been to a Green Bay Packers game. What I really want is for her to acknowledge that she wishes her life were different, that she wishes her life were mine.

For sure. I could write a similar paragraph. I stayed home writing stories and reading books convinced that someday it would pay off. It did. I like to remind people of this now and then. I think my life is pretty awesome. But that last sentence in that paragraph is so important. There is this crazy, delirious part of you on the inside that totally and completely wants the harassers from the past to come up to you and say, “you know, I wish I had a life like yours today.” Just once.

But of course, they probably never will, even if they felt that way.

The closest I ever came to such a statement from anyone who picked on me in the past was at my ten-year reunion. The person gave an acknowledgment to what I had done so far in my life, in just ten years, and they were impressed. I remember smiling and saying something like thank you and I enjoy my life a lot. That person lives in the town we grew up in, has a family, and works a job where there is No Degree Required. I think the person even owns a home. I, meanwhile, am still in school, though in a Ph.D. program, living on a GTA stipend, in an efficiency apartment, but I have no kids and I can pretty much do whatever I want if I have the time and money, with money being the real kicker.  While that person starts the weekend with making dinner and maybe making sure the kids are all ready for bed soon, I start my weekend with a movie and a beer and no kids to interrupt my dinner, drinking, or movie watching and it is my version of bliss. And like how Erin Gloria Ryan points out in her article, still linked above, there is no way you can really right all the wrongs of what happened before. It would come out sounding bitter and you would only become the bully, even if it would be a little cathartic and maybe, there was some catharsis for the bullies back then, too, though I have no foggy idea of what that could be.

Is the Creative Class just about the Creative Class? Maybe.

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

So, I read this earlier about Richard Florida and the creative class and how many cities, such as Michigan’s Cool Cities Initiative really fail because they basically make life better for us creative class types, but make the more blue-collar, working class suffer once basic living needs, such as housing, is taken into consideration. I have to admit that the more rational, logical part of me isn’t surprised, but my more creative self doesn’t want to admit this is true and that this is just another terribly biased article, which it probably is in its way. I remember reading Florida’s book on The Rise of the Creative Class for a class I took last academic year and thinking, yes, this is like me and I love this, and at the same time thinking, but what would happen to people like who my parents were when I was growing up? What about the working class? And while Florida discusses blue collar workers in his book, I couldn’t help but think they don’t really benefit from it, despite his arguments since I had never seen any evidence for it. When you are working class, you are far less likely to take in the latest community-sponsored play or see what is happening in your local arts scene. You are also far less likely to have completed a college education. So what does the creative class do for the blue-collar workers, or the working poor?

Sure, you may get a nicer community, but that also means the cost of living rises whereas your wages may not. You also get a group of people who care about schools, the arts, and just people who in general care about having leisure activities that aren’t about seeing how many beers you can drink after you clock out at five. But are the blue-collar workers going to care? I’ll admit I’ve been in my share of dive bars and seen them acknowledge, hey, we have a great city now; look at these young kids having a fantastic time and doing cool and interesting things, and oh, you are one of them! Fantastic!, but if you ask them how they benefit from it directly, they cannot say. They may mention their rent has went up in the last year or so and no, they have never been to Newest Hipster Hangout and what does that mean again?

I grew up on a farm and small towns. Farming communities have their share of middle class people because land is tied to money in our culture, which the government constantly reminds us in the form of taxes. But even with “rich farmers” I also knew a ton of working class people. My best friend in elementary school had two parents who were beautifully blue-collar and with them I felt like part of the working class, even though by the time I was in high school, my dad was a paid professional. Still, I saw how long it took for my parents to “catch up” on the socioeconomic scale. Having three kids didn’t help. While my mom held a number of jobs, she was mostly just a stay-at-home mom, which is a really great opportunity, if one can do it. And, as the oldest child, I probably still best remember what it was like before my dad finished his MS in Crop and Weed science and got better jobs. Now my parents appear to be doing great, but my dad is also partially retired and it took them so long to even get to that point. In a few days, they will have been married for 32 years, and that, as far as I am concerned, is a long time to do anything. And I know we were very lucky and things could have been far, far worse if it were not for my grandparents on my mom’s side and some of my dad’s extended family. Far, far worse.

But my past experiences as a child always make me concerned for what people term “the invisible poor” and/or “the working poor”. It is easy to not notice (or just plain ignore) the working poor in the community when you are not the working poor. I think about them far more than I should and worry about them and wish that there is more we could do as a community. I know initiatives exist, but the midwestern culture does not always look kindly upon people who are less than middle class because, as you know, bad things happen because you didn’t work hard enough.

I admit I am speaking entirely from bias and my experiences and while I admire Florida’s ideas and goals and want to believe strongly in them (and in some ways I do), I worry about them as well. What kind of culture are we really producing and who really benefits? I mean, I love the arts. I am a part of the arts community. But I know we cannot ignore the whole picture, either.