Friday, January 30, 2009

I see you have learned to work the Google on the internet machine.

Welcome to some new readers, thanks for joining in, it's fun to have you. (Secretly I feel so popular after all the comments on my last post).

Today I bring you two stories.

Story one:
My pseudo-niece has an entourage of stuffed animals. (I'd post one of her mom's cute pictures, but really we all know how that goes for me). Last night, I started my class in our regular classroom and then we walked over to the computer lab to finish up. We had to go to the computer lab in the other building, and none of them knew where it was. So I told them which classroom, but then they just stood around until I started walking.

I was walking down the hallway with a massive clump of 12 people following me. I turned around and told them they were my entourage. They thought it was funnier to act like my kindergartners. But I almost felt cool to have an entourage like Lily.

Story two:
This morning I began reading my students' journal entries. This is my English 102 class, so these students are at least in their second semester of college. We are working on critical reading and critical thinking skills, so their journals are written responses to the assigned readings. After reading several entries, I turned around to my office mate and said, "I don't think I can assign journals anymore. I can't stand to read these!" He's good at being properly sympathetic. (Unlike me, I just laughed when he told me 5 of his students said 3+3=9).

The responses to the journals were frustrating, because the students seem to intentionally misread what the author is saying and take it to the extreme. So they react with hatred to some idea the author has proposed, when in reality that is not what the author said.

That was my main reaction, but here I will give you my favorite line. Because not only is their thinking underdeveloped, but their writing is too.

This student is reacting to an article that we read entitled "Children's Culture and Disney's Animated Films," in which the author describes what Disney movies teach children. His focus is parents and educators who, he claims, need to be more aware of the underlying messages that they surround their children with. The student wrote, "The purpose of this article is to aware people that disney is not all what it is ment to be."

All errors are hers. But what I really enjoyed was "to aware." When did aware become a verb? Is it a change of language that follows the path of "Googling" and "texting" and "Facebooking"? If it is, do we need that change of language when there is a perfectly good verb for that -- i.e. to warn?

Monday, January 26, 2009

You should see the other guy.

I have skin cancer. Again. Fortunately, after a couple of days, I have been able to move on from being upset about this. But it still opens up a whole range of bizarre conversations.

First I should explain, the skin cancer is two separate spots on my forehead. The first is a big scab because the doctor did a biopsy. The second is right over my eyebrow and is a big scabby red mark because the doctor decided to freeze it with liquid nitrogen (yeah, not happy. very not happy).

I feel like both marks are pretty obvious, but the one over my eyebrow is especially noticeable. Which leads people to notice it. And then they comment on it.

First lady (who is a friend and fellow professor): Are you breaking out?
Me: No, it's skin cancer.
FL: Oh my gosh! Oh, I'm so sorry I said anything! Oh, I really shouldn't have said anything.

Second lady: What'd you do to your forehead?
Me: It's skin cancer.
SL: What?! Why don't we have a prayer circle going? You should TELL people about that! We gotta get some healing up in here.
(I'd attempt to explain that reaction, but... I got nothing).

First Man: Did you scrape yourself?
Me: No, it's skin cancer.
FM: Completely horrified look. I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have said anything at all. Oh, I'm really sorry I brought it up.

I find these reactions very odd. If I had a problem with talking about it, I wouldn't respond honestly, right? But these reactions also make me feel like it is my fault for making the person feel uncomfortable. And, of course, I take a kind of sick pleasure in knowing that I am making them uncomfortable.

But, since I am making people uncomfortable, I decided that my next response will be "I burnt myself with a curling iron" (because that is about what it looks like). A decent response which will just make people leave me alone I think.

Then I thought it would be so much more amusing to say, "Oh, that's nothing. You should see the other guy."

So I'm practicing saying that with a straight face.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Do you need a notepad?

I thought about writing about this experience all evening yesterday, but I was worried about jinxing it. Because that would be such a bummer. But it really was such a unique (read bizarre) experience, that I can't stop thinking about it.

I walked into my classroom yesterday and had my whole lesson prepared. It was not an exciting one. There are just those things that you have to get through to lay the foundation. So this was a foundational lesson, we were talking about academic writing, building "habits of mind" to become critical thinkers, and critical reading strategies. There was a lot to cover and basically I lectured. Don't judge me.

The interesting experience was this. The students sat quietly at their desks and took notes. They took notes! Every time I said something there was a little flurry of pens and pencils, scribbling away. Every time I wrote something on the board, I could hear pens scratching and papers being flipped. One student even asked me to repeat what I had said so that she could write it down.

The amazingness continued. Not only did they take notes, but, when I referred them to their textbook, to look at a specific page, they all turned to that page and followed along.

I know you may be thinking, of course they will take notes. They are students, you are the professor, they write down what you say. But I have never had that happen before. I've done lots of lessons, I've done lots of activities, but until yesterday, I have never had an entire class sit for an hour and fifteen minutes and take notes.

I hope that didn't jinx it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive!

Yesterday, we had our all day campus in-service meeting. Basically just a long day of meetings that were all doom and gloom about the economy.

In the middle, though, we took a break to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama. We all got together in our biggest seminar room and projected the live stream from CNN. I got there just as the invocation was ending (or so I thought. It really went on for a while), so I was able to see the entire ceremony. I really enjoyed the musical number with YoYo Ma, the "Air and Simple Gifts" by John Williams. If you missed it, check it out here. (Yes, it's true. I didn't get any feedback on how to embed a video, so I can't do that, and I still suck at pictures).

I am impressed with Barack Obama and I am really excited that he is president. He had great things to say and good ideas for changes to implement. Most of all, I was struck by the feeling of unity at his inauguration. So many people came together to be there and be a part of it because they feel connected to him and the dream of change and hope.

I grew up in Maryland, just outside of DC. Watching Obama's inauguration made me think about going to Bill Clinton's inauguration. I was little (actually I have no sense of time, so I really don't know when it was) and it was Clinton's first inauguration. So my mom bundled up all of the kids and we rode the Metro down to the Mall. I remember they had all these different stations and areas for kids to be entertained. There was a wall made of bulletin boards and tables with markers where they let kids write messages to Pres. Clinton and then arrange them on the board for him to see later. (I wonder if he ever did). I remember thinking I was really cool because I drew a big peace sign. Then I tacked it up and someone told me it was upside down.

I don't actually remember any part of the inauguration ceremony. We joke now about how my mom dragged us all around DC anytime there was an event, and maybe I was cranky about it at the time (I don't remember that either), but yesterday, as I sat and watched hours of news coverage, I thought it was really cool to have had the opportunity to go to an inauguration.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"How can you read this? There's no pictures!" "Well, some people use their imagination."

Do people tell you what other people said about you? It seems to regularly happen to me. The other day, my mom told my sister that our blogs are too boring (meaning my two blogging sisters' and mine). We write too much. Ok, just kidding. It's really that we don't have tons of pictures and videos and cute banners and backgrounds.

Well, my sister told me this. And I said, I've put pictures up! But they are always backwards of the order I wanted them in, and they mess up the text that I wanted around them. It's irritating!

But I had thought previously about having a picture with my title. So I have created what you see at the top.

I'm thinking it's a bit much. But really that's what my bedside stack looks like...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I'm about to rearrange the cosmos, and the one *schlemiel* who can louse it up is waltzing around in the woods.

"I'll begin, 'I remember it just like it was yesterday. I was teaching a night class at the time, and one evening when I walked in I saw that someone had written in bold letters on a chalkboard at the side of the room: 'Put the chairs back in rows!'" --Derrick Jensen, Walking on Water

This is one of the laugh-out-loud stories that Derrick Jensen (a writing teacher) shares in his book. The story goes that his class puts the chairs in a circle for class time, and he gets into a chalkboard war with a professor who wants the chairs in rows. Jensen wins, just in case you are wondering.

I was reminded of this story this morning, and this is what happened.

Yesterday was the first day of school. Sunday night I was not at all excited, but on Monday morning, I was much more excited. I went into my classroom and was slightly surprised to see that the tables and chairs had been arranged into what are sometimes called pods. Two tables pushed together with chairs around them. There were about 8 of these little groups all around the classroom.

I, personally, am a fan of the circle. It allows my students to see each other, which is helpful to participation, it allows them to interact with each other, rather than just me, and I can sit with them which helps me to see the cell phones they attempt to hide under the table. But I decided that for the first day, this arrangement would be ok. They were not in strict rows only facing the front, so there was more interaction already.

During the second class that I had yesterday, in the same classroom, I still left the tables in pods. When the students came in, I was pleased to see that I have several students from last semester (fortunately they have moved up to the next level). As we were chatting, one of the students commented that the arrangement was different.

I responded, "Yeah, I'm not sure I'm digging it. What do you think?"

Most of them agreed that they liked the circle better.

When I arrived at work this morning, I had received an email, stating that I had clearly rearranged the furniture in AS 204, and would I please refrain from doing so in the future. Now, this email came from the facilities coordinator who works with all the maintenance and janitorial staff, and (like Derrick Jensen) I am inclined to respect that request because perhaps it is easier to vacuum if the tables are in rows. However, I was unjustly accused!

I responded: "Actually, I didn't rearrange the tables. They were arranged that way when I entered the classroom." And then to be extra polite, I asked, "How should they be arranged?"

And then I got a phone call (this always surprises me because my phone never rings). The facilities coordinator himself was calling to tell me how the tables should be arranged. In rows of course. Facing the front. "And do I understand this correctly? You didn't rearrange the tables?"

Dude, if I had rearranged, it would have been in a circle.

He's still working to solve the mystery of who rearranged the tables.

Monday, January 12, 2009

"Oh, I meant the older... sorry, not 'old', less..." "Handsome? Less hair? Less friends on Facebook?"

I spent a really fabulous break at home with my family (have I mentioned that already?). Some of my siblings like to spend (apparently vast amounts of) time on YouTube. One of the fun things we did was share all the different YouTube videos we like with each other. (I actually was able to contribute one, and was impressed that I had actually seen several of the others).

Behold, one of said videos:
(Ok, so I really have no idea how to embed videos. Anyone? Anyone?)

The other day, two of my colleagues were talking about Facebook, I happened to walk by and they asked me if I was on Facebook. I said yes. And they were both like, you should be our friend! Which then turned into a lengthy conversation about how one has a tendency to swear (alot) on everyone's walls.

And all I could think of was: "Would you like to be my friend? Confirm or ignore." "Can I get confirmation on that?"

But the story doesn't end there. I walked in this morning, and one of said colleagues said, "I tried to find you on Facebook, did you used to be blonde?"

The answer is no. One good thing about my name is about 500 people in the US have my exact name, and most of them are on Facebook.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

It's SANTA, I KNOW him!

Being a professor has major perks, including a long Christmas break, and it was great to go home and spend so much time with my family. I was going to tell you a funny story about being home with my family, but my sister Carla already wrote it very well, so check it out:

"Don't you just hate flying?" "Yes, and I just told the worst one to my fiancee."

Observations on a flight back to the Midwest.

1. The Raleigh/Durham airport has an entirely new terminal, complete with fancy restaurants, book stores, and an Apple vending machine (yes, I capitalized Apple on purpose, meaning that it vends iPods). One of the nice features of this new terminal is the large, comfortably positioned chairs. Seriously, these chairs would have comfortably seated two of me, and were reclined just the right amount. Of course, in reality, this only makes the seats on the airplane more horrible.

2. A certain strange man in the Chicago O'Hare airport. I had a long layover (2 hours), so I went to the bathroom, bought a drink, and settled into a (less-comfortable than Raleigh) seat to read my book. The gate I was at (why do they call them gates, they are really just doors) was actually 5 different gates, F11 A, B, C, D, and E, so there was alot of activity. At least 4 planes left in the time I sat there. During this constant shuffling, there was a man who stayed in the same area, but kept getting up and moving around. I listened to him talk to a family of four. Ok, really, he talked to the father of the family, the mother and two teenage daughters just gave him weird looks. He explained a very long sob story about how he had been sitting in the airport for two days, is missing his conference, and doesn't know where his luggage is. Sad story, right? After watching him (not intently) for a couple hours, I have decided that this is a lie and he's a thief. He spent two hours focused on different individuals, zeroed in on them,watched them intently, and then came up with ways to start a conversation. He clearly has an operation going, he convinces them that he is just a poor, mistreated traveler, and then, when their guard is down, he robs them.

3. Pilots were never trained to talk to people. As part of my adventure, I was trapped in a metal tube on the runway for 2 and a half hours. During this time, the pilot announced several different reasons for the delay. First, we had to wait for some additional luggage. Then we had to wait our turn to de-ice. Then we taxied out onto the runway, and had a mechanical problem. And we had to wait to find out what it was, wait for it to be fixed, go back to the gate for it to be fixed. Finally the pilot announced, "Well folks, we have a heat sensor on the brakes, it measures how hot and how cold the breaks get, and the mechanical problem was that the sensor was acting erratically, it was saying it was hot and then it was cold and then it was hot and then it was cold, so we had to replace it." After being stuck in an incredibly hot plane for that long, I just wanted to yell, "Yes, up and down, that's what erratically means! We got it!"

4. Airlines are using smaller planes these days. On both legs of my journey, the planes held fewer than 60 people, packed full. They were the kind of planes that the stewardess checking you in has to give you a green tag if you have a rolling bag, because the overhead compartments are too small. Apparently some people were unwilling to believe her about the size of the overhead compartments because after several announcements she came over the PA: "If you have a wheelie suitcase, you MUST come to the desk now and get a green tag. The overhead compartments are the size of a shoebox! I am serious. Your bags will NOT fit!"

And so I conclude with a passage from my new book that aptly describes it all:
"Randy is in Tokyo's airport, ambling down a concourse with a slowness that is infuriating to his fellow travelers. They have all spent the last half-day strapped into bad chairs, stuffed into an aluminum tube alsosh with jet fuel. Over the safety-engineered nubs molded into the jetway floor, their rolling suitcases drone like fighter planes. They graze the backs of his knees as they bank around him."