Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hours of prep, or Am I a teacher or a researcher?

I just read a post on Academic Jungle on how much time it takes the blogger prof. (tenured female) to prep a 1-hour lecture.  She is in a STEM discipline (science, tech, engineering, math).  Wow, those STEM folks live in a very different world.  Entry-level undergrad that she's taught before--30 minutes prep.  Yes.  That's what she wrote.  Same for entry-level grad course--30 minutes (or up to 1 hr for upper level grad)!  

In my world, we don't use textbooks.  We use books and articles, even for lower-division courses.  And I have to skim (or even re-read) those readings before class.  Then I go over my powerpoints and notes.  I am a much more effective teacher if I put in this time (average of 1.5 - 2 hrs per hour of class for a class I've taught before).  I brush up on my facts plus think about how to explain and expand upon concepts and theories. Plus, mine is a rapidly moving field and I need to significantly update my lectures every time I teach.

So let's see: 1.5 hrs x 3 hrs/wk x 2 classes x 15 wks = 135 hrs per semester!!!  90 to 135 more hours per semester for my course prep compared to what I am assuming (perhaps incorrectly) is fairly typical in the STEM disciplines.  Interesting.  And of course, I'm comparing in terms of a 2-course per semester load, so comparing across research universities (if those in the STEM world do teach 2 classes--my neighbor in engineering teaches one course/semester). 

135 hours--that's a lot of hours.  Teaching prep clearly varies significantly across disciplines within my university.  But no one ever talks about it. 

Living on the edge of my deadlines

Yesterday morning, I was supposed to go get bloodwork done in preparation for my annual checkup (standard procedure).   But I messed up my pre-test 8-hour fast by drinking coffee--turns out even black coffee will mess up the results.  So I planned to do it this morning instead, at 8am before my 9:30 class.  But I was giving a midterm at 9:30 and at the last minute decided not to push it by getting blood drawn first since I hadn't yet printed out the 5-page test. 

Good thing!  The Xerox machine became hopelessly jammed after spitting out one copy.  And it is a new machine.  You'd think I'd have learned.  From now on, I vow to never leave the printing of a test to the last hour.  I really mean it this time. 

I am a procrastinator.  I'm trying to become a recovering procrastinator. 

I write up a test the day before (or night before) and keep twiddling with it until the last minute.

I wait forever to buy airline tickets--the more expensive they are, the longer I wait.  I am flying to both Canada and Europe in the next month--business, not pleasure.  And I bet my procrastination added $200-$300 on to the tickets.  In the past, my procrastination often would pay off with lower ticket prices--but I don't think that happens much any more.

I wait until the last minute to send in conference papers to the discussant.  In fact, sometimes I am late. Very, very lame. 

I wait until the deadline has passed sometimes to even begin to review a manuscript or book.

I tell my students they'll have their midterms back within two weeks--then I wait until the very last day to grade the remaining 90% of them.  I do get those back by my deadline, but I wish I could just dive in and finish them in a week or less.

This morning, I did get the midterms printed on time by using the laser printer.  Good thing it's a 40-person class, not my 90-person class.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cheapskate! Yes, that's me

A few weeks ago, a U of Chicago law professor wrote a very silly blog about how hard it is for his family to live on their "a bit more than" $250k income.  And how Obama's proposed tax hike for the rich would put them over the edge--maybe even force them to sell their house and cars! 

As many, many have pointed out, he's ridiculously whiny.  He is also ignorant about how tax hikes work.  But the blog generated some great discussions.  And Mommy/Prof had an interested blog on living below one's means.

We're pretty good about living below our means--slightly below our means.  In addition to our jobs' mandatory payments to 403b or pension funds, we max out our Roth IRAs and put some into our kids 529 accounts.  But more would always be better.  My significant other has rather substantial school loans to pay off; we've barely made a dent in them yet, even though we pay more monthly than required.

Now that my daughter is in kindergarten, we're saving about $300/mo.  Plus, it looks like we'll have about $120 - $360/mo less in medical expenses for her this year.  Big bucks!  I better dedicate it to savings before it magically evaporates. 

Now, what about actively saving money?  I have to say that although we bought a house within our means (according to sources like Money magazine), I often think life would be easier if we had a less expensive and smaller house.  House-wise, there is a lot to be said for living below your means.  Less house = flexibility.  Flexibility to move more easily, to make less money, to spend more on vacations, to save more for retirement.....

We've had some great money saving methods, some of which have gone by the wayside.  I only recently started paying someone to cut my hair.  For at least 15 years, I cut my own hair.  It didn't always look perfect, but it didn't always look so great when someone else cut it either.  I also cut my kids' hair.  A conservative estimate: $2780 in hair money in the bank! (See below for details).

What else?  We don't often buy coffee to go or buy lunch at work.  What if we each had one additional coffee ($2) and lunch ($8) per week for the last 15yrs: $15,600!  OK--even I am shocked.

We didn't have cable for our first 12 years: $10,800 in savings.  I have to say, $10,800 was more than worth it.  I wish we didn't have cable now, but I'm over-ruled.

I've been yearning for an iPhone for the past two years, but I'm too cheap.   But what if I, like my sister, my grad students, and the instructors in my dept, weren't too cheap?  $2160.  Wow, that's close to all my hair money saved over 15 years!

And we buy used cars and drive them until they almost die.  One car is a 1999 and the other is a 2003.  Savings are hard to calculate in this case.  What if we had gone through one additional car (purchased used) in the last 15 yrs?  Conservative estimate: $17,000.

I almost forgot to add in the money I save not paying for campus parking for the last 4 yrs (I have a free bus pass from the university): $1680.

Just for those cheapskate ways mentioned above, the savings is about $50,000!  While we now have the dreaded cable, plus I indulge in haircuts every 4 months or so for myself and my son, these calculations have renewed my commitment to continue to save in the other ways. 

Very important point: my cheapskate ways do not involve a lot of time/effort on my part.  Haircuts can be a pain, but when you only cut your/kids' hair every 4 months, it doesn't add up to much time. Particularly if you calculate the alternative: making the appointment, driving to the salon, waiting, PLUS the haircut itself.  And while our cars age, we love to take the bus to work.  I get an extra 40+ minutes of work done on the bus every day!  Cable TV, as we all know in our heart of hearts, is a huge time suck.  So is having an iPhone--I really should not have 24/7 access to the internet and email.  And I think that half the reason I don't buy a coffee on the way to work or eat lunch out is the extra time involved--I usually eat at my desk.

I can't decide if all this makes me feel better or worse for spending $460 on trees and tree supplies today..... At least it isn't a habit of ours, blowing money on our landscaping.

Homemade haircuts: $35 x 4 times/yr x 15 yrs = $2,100.  I also cut my son's hair: $17 x 4 x 8yrs = $544.  My daughter: $17 x 4 x 2yrs = $136.  Total: $2780

One additional coffee ($2) and lunch ($8) per week:  2people x 15yrs x 52wks x $10 =  $15,600. 

Cable: 12ys x 12mos. x $75/mo = $10,800.

No iPhone: 2yrs x $90/mo x 12mos = $2160. 

No parking lot fee: $35 x 4yrs x 12mos = $1680.  Yes!

No kale in my purse

OK, I admit it--in my family, we don't eat as many vegetables as we should.  This article today in the NYT has my number.

One woman said she "would eat more vegetables if they weren’t, in her words, 'a pain.'
'An apple you can just grab,' she said. 'But what am I going to do, put a piece of kale in my purse?'" Exactly! I'm good with the fruit, but you can't just grab a kale on the way out the door.

Another guy noted, "The moment you have something fresh you have to schedule your life around using it.”

So what are we to do?  Besides eating only baby carrots, that is (one of the few "on the go" veggies, especially if celery sticks don't thrill you).  An old colleague of mine ate so many carrots her hands turned yellow. I'd like to avoid that.

My Mom made something delicious called Texas Caviar last week, which involves beans and veggies.  But she is withholding the recipe from me because she wants it to be "her special dish." Hmphf.
We eat a lot of sweet potatoes, especially the lighter colored ones.  These are good with the bottled Indian curry sauces that we eat every couple weeks.

They are also delicious as mashed potatoes (and easy to make).  Skin, cut in chunks, and boil like normal potatoes.  At the same time, slow saute sliced onions and garlic cloves cut in half (about 1/2 onion and 1 big garlic clove per potato).  Then, when everything is soft and the onions/garlic are golden and mushable, put it all in a big bowl and take a hand blender to it.  Bit by bit, add milk/butter to get the taste/texture you like.  Careful not to overbeat--can turn starchy.
Make extra and freeze in baggies--a big time saver!

My Mom has shared a Yam-Zucchini Salad recipe that is simple and addictive.  We eat it as a side salad.  But at a potluck or party it also works great as a salsa, paired with tortilla chips (espec. those lime-flavored ones).  Plus, it will keep in your fridge for 4-5 days, so you'll have a veggie dish for several meals.
1 1/2 lb. yams/sweet potatoes cubed (the brighter orange yams look best)
2 cups small zucchini chunks
1 1/2 cup corn
2/3 cup green onion
1 bell pepper (red or orange are best)
1/3 cup oil (olive or canola)
1/4 cup wine vinegar
1 T ground cumin
1 1/2 t minced garlic (I add more than this)
salt & pepper (to taste)
Cook the sweet potatoes 20 minutes -- soft, but before they start to loose their shape (they need to hold up in the salad); pour on 1/2 of the dressing while hot.  Compile the rest of the veggies and put it all together with the rest of the dressing.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Slow night at the rec line, plus delayed tears for dead pets

On Friday nights during the school year, our city recreation center is turned it into a kids-only fun zone (3rd to 7th graders).  It is the center of my son's social life--he loves it.

Parents, however, have more of a love-hate relationship with it.  It takes 20+ minutes to get your kid signed in.  The people who run it are geniuses at creating adolescent fun and incompetents at efficiency.  Last year, I was next to my neighbor in line, and he was so mad I thought his head was going to explode!

We parents try to speed things up!  Most of us had downloaded, printed out, and filled in the form already--but then we had to stand there with form in hand 10 minutes just to hand it in to one of 6 teen-agers.  Then another 10 minutes in line to pay--with only 1 teen-ager collecting the money!  And of course everyone waits to ask their weighty questions of this one teen-ager collecting the money.  GRRRRRRRRR.

Son had a big math test today.  He "thinks" he did well.  The poor kid was up to 10:25 last night--about 45 minutes later than usual.  The big hold up?  No, he wasn't studying for the test.  He had to color in an outline of a football helmet with the logo of the Houston Texans.  Yes, it takes him 45 minutes to do something like that, all told.  No, he is not much of an artist.  No, I don't know why they are coloring anything football-ish, but my son assures me there is a larger point to it.  I wish the teacher would warn us when they send home meaningless assignments, because those are, without fail, what take the longest for my son to complete.

My daughter has been crying lately about our cat who died a year ago.  She asked some pointed questions about where he was when he died, etc.--details better left unstated.  Our dog also died last year--more tears about that also.  Not sure why this is coming up now.  Delayed kindergarten angst?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why do grad students like me when I'm mean and disrespect me when I'm nice?

Yesterday afternoon I had a delightful get-together with a junior faculty.  We met for tapas and wine, which is hopefully the way I can start to have all my meetings with other faculty!  Why meet for coffee when you can meet over delicious food (wine optional)?

She has been out on medical leave for a while, and is now concerned that senior faculty in her department aren't clear on her tenure clock. One of them mentioned her tenure case seeming "shaky."  But she still has 19 months before she has to hand in her file!  Geeeeez.  It all depends on the book, which needs to be in press by that time.  She definitely can do it.  I'm wondering if she is having that reluctance that so many of us do to "let go" of a manuscript.  Perfectionism can get you fired in this business.

The day before that, in addition to my two classes, I also covered a colleague's grad seminar.  She is out of commission for a month after surgery.  She had one of her advanced graduate students who has already taken the seminar with her running the class, but others in the department decided it was important to have a faculty present.  I agree. 

This would have been fine, except that her darling graduate students were my nightmare graduate students.  This one in particular made my life miserable.  Seriously.  Hateful. 

So I decided I would just not engage with hateful grad student during the seminar.  That is, being professionally polite, but not pretending that we actually were friendly or that I even remembered him very well.  I'm ordinarily very concerned to be personable, friendly with graduate students, so this took some effort.  But I think it was partly my friendliness that caused the problem in the first place--that is, led that group of students to be such hyper-critical grade-whiners. 

I have heard several colleagues mention that the key to gaining graduate student respect is to be mean to them, to be merciless.  I think there might be some truth to this, sadly.  I know that the grad seminar in which I was the most strict and aloof also gave me my highest teaching evaluations.

In the end, I don't have the mental or emotional bandwidth to tailor my treatment of students to meet such needs (to the extent they actually have them).  I generally like graduate students and want to enjoy my time with them.  So the most I've mustered is to play it cool the first couple weeks, and then lighten up.  That seemed to work for everybody last year.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Failed academics--Nice work if you can get it

I received my Ph.D. over a decade ago.   A good number of my grad school friends are very successful academics.  But many others are not university professors at all.  A few didn't get tenure.  One is a successful scholar in a think tank.  Two went to business school and got MBAs. 

I've been thinking lately about the two MBAs.  One didn't get a tenure track job, so after a few years on the job market, she was accepted into one of the very top business schools in the country.  The other never moved out of ABD status, and after years of no dissertation, she too applied and was accepted into one of the very best of b-schools. 

I fell out of touch with both before they entered b-school.  Before that, I think they were loath to speak to me much because the dissertation and job search were going so poorly for them.  While I too took a long time to finish the PhD and had a slow start to my job search, I might have looked liked  success story to them.

Anyhow, both have recently found me through facebook.  They've been working at powerful corporations and have titles like  "vice president of xyz."  Now, I just read on a blog that University of Chicago MBAs, 9 years out, make $400k (men) and $250k (women).  Yikes!  Wow!  And I bet both my MBA friends are close to the $400k, as neither had kids.  Plus, I've seen photos of one of their houses.  I can only describe it as a mansion--a humongous mansion.

The blog was by Virginia Rutter, and the main point was the gender discrepancy in pay.  It is a good blog, and you should go there to read more about the gender issues she explores.  But in addition to her good points, I started thinking that, at least in my own and similar disciplines, it can pay to fail and leave academia completely.  $400,000 per year!   No one should be complaining about professor salaries being too high.

On that topic, I should also mention that three of my professor friends over the years have married textbook sellers.  Guess what--all three textbook sellers make significantly more than their professor spouses.  One makes twice as much; another makes about 50% more.  Need I mention that the textbook sellers only have BAs?

Yes, I'm a bit bitter.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

How Scholastic Books molds our boys into he-men & girls into BFFs!

The latest Scholastic Book catalog arrived in my son's backpack.  One new book would probably appeal to him: "The Boys' Book of Adventure: Are You Ready to Face the Challenge?" -- "learn how to dive for treasure, survive on a desert island, tackle a komodo dragon, and more!"
Don't worry--Scholastic didn't forget the girls!  "The Girls' Book of Friendship: How to Be the Best Friend Ever"-- "Packed with fun activities--stay friends for life, make a friendship bracelet, and more!"
So, boys get adventure, girls get BFFs ("best friends forever," for the uninitiated).  I see the attraction of both adventure and friendship.  It is the gendering of friendship and adventure that irks me.  The book series has a certain 1950s look to it (though the covers have modern images), which is cool until we recall the stricter gender boundaries for girls and boys back then.  

These books, in effect, serve to equate boys=adventure and girls=friendships and target an age group in which boys fairly strictly understand themselves against girls and all things girlie.  What is a boy?  A boy is NOT a girl.  And vice verse for girls.  So, to be a girl means to not seek adventure, in effect.

These books at first glance seem so attractive--kitschy and fun and harmless.  But in effect they are one more brick in the wall that narrows the horizon of possibilities for being a girl or being a boy in this society.

My son is still fairly sensitive and loving and communicative--at least while at home.  And as he gets older PLUS takes up more he-man sports (eg. football), I hope he stays in touch with that sensitive side. 

They got creamed in their football game this morning!  The score was incredibly uneven.  They were all so dejected, sad-looking.  And there were definite tears flowing at various points in the game.  I didn't realize that 10 year old boys cry in sports....regularly!  And the best athletes seem to cry the most--when they get hurt, but also out of frustration or disappointment.  One mom hugged her son and put a blanket over his head as he was crying--she didn't do it out of shame but just to give him some privacy. 

In general, these football boys are pretty sweet.   I don't overhear them cussing or being crude or rude (aside from some innocuous fart jokes).  And we've got some gentle giants on the team who have to be prodded to tackle hard.

So I've got to hand it to these moms and dads--they're raising some fairly sensitive and sweet boys thus far.  Maybe that's why they lost so badly?  No, I think the other team out-skilled them (vs. winning by being more aggressive).  Plus, as one mom said, our boys just aren't morning people. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

My Kids' Vacation while I Work

Turns out my son made the baseball team.  We've been warned it will cost about $600, but Little League cost at least $300. Plus, there will be fundraising opportunities.  The worst part is that he will have to miss out on the annual camping trip that my extended family has been doing for the last 68 years.  He loves those trips, so I'm sad for him.  Plus sad for me because I'll miss him--but I'm going regardless, and taking daughter. 

The school district switched around the teacher prep days this year.  There is no school Thursday, Friday, and Monday--5 days straight of no school, and less than 5 weeks into the school year.  This has caused such parental confusion (it is hard to believe that the kids already have so many days off), that I've received 3 automated phone calls plus one email from the school district reminding me.  Of course, I am waist-deep in work and there is no way we could have gone on a trip--that, plus the onerous football schedule.

Fortunately, my parents are here this week and are caring for the kids Th and Fri. I don't know why, but lately I feel busier than ever when they visit.  I go to work, then come home around 5:30 and rush around prepping dinner, then when not attending evening obligations, I talk with my parents.  Which is great.  But the kitchen doesn't seem to get very clean on its own and the clothes aren't washing themselves.  So housework is totally piling up as I'm trying at least to catch up with work.  And no, my mom doesn't take over the housework when she is here--good for her!  She does help with meals, and my dad even cooked some burgers.

At work, I've finished the ms. review for the university press, the review for the journal, and the tenure review.  Now I just have the book review for the journal (good book, so not such a chore).  I am about to decline to review another journal request to review an article because I already reviewed the same piece for another journal.  That's the second time this has happened in a year.  Unfortunately, the first time I didn't realize it until the last minute, right before it was due (title was vague, and had changed a bit, so I didn't know until I started actually reading it).  Ooooops.  Those screw-ups don't make an editor's life any easier.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Professors--elitist fashionistas or still wearing clothes from grad school?

The NYT had a funny op-ed by Douglas Coupland yesterday, in which he provides new dictionary terms for the near future.  I've been thinking about one of them in particular:

"BLANK-COLLAR WORKERS Formerly middle-class workers who will never be middle class again and who will never come to terms with that."

One of my passions is personal finance.  I'm fascinated by the decisions people make in terms of their money and their sense of who they are.

I know some people who fit the above description of "blank-collar workers." It's both a sad reflection on our economy and also throws a dim light on blank-collar workers' retirement.  I know many others who could use the advice: "Stop acting rich" (or at least spending like you're rich). But none of those people are professors.

I'm sure I'm not the only one to have watched friends and relatives spend and consume conspicuously and beyond their means.  But this recession is one of those instances when you hate being right.  Kind of like when I was right about war in Afghanistan.  Fate of the eternal pessimist, I guess.

One thing we can say about professors--as a group we are quite sensible with our money! But on average we're also not paid so extravagantly.   Just take a drive through the faculty parking lot of your nearest university.  Then drive through the student parking lot.  Who has better cars? At my university, the students drive more expensive cars.  That should tell you something.

One "end tenure" book recently reviewed in the NYT claimed, "today's senior professors can afford Marc Jacobs"!  Hah! Most of us professors would have to look up "Marc Jacobs" to get it, and then we would laugh at the claim once we saw the price of that clothing line (at least I laughed).

What an outrageously stupid point.  Even a quick look at the AAUP Faculty Salary survey reveals, in my state, that full professors at a few institutions average $120k-$125k and more average $63-$75k.  At the lower end, it is certainly a livable wage--but Marc Jacobs?  What a small world those authors must live in--projecting NYC elite institutional norms (and fashion sense) on to higher education nationwide.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Chairs and Phones

We had our first department meeting today.  Yes, school has been in session about 3 weeks, but we're just now getting around to having a meeting.  This, in the midst of budget cuts, etc.

Par for the course, unfortunately.  Our chair is practically phoning it in. 

So the rest of the department has started to decide everything in subcommittees, in which we all meet and make real decisions and then inform the chair (or just implement the decision).  We've made the delightful innovation lately of doing this over an early dinner.  Sure makes the extra meetings more pleasant.

At the end of last year, I conducted exit interviews with majors, as I've done the last several years. This year I added questions about our two untenured faculty who will soon come up for comprehensive review.  The bright idea was that we could include the results in those faculties' teaching files, to make them all the stronger.  Extra measures = extra good. 

Last spring the chair thought this was a great idea and gave me the go-ahead.  This year, today, in meeting, she claims that it can't be used.  She had some long-winded, tortuous explanation in which she rehearsed the bureaucracy and then gave some seemingly unrelated bits of anecdotal evidence.  We don't know what is wrong with her. But I do know that I reeeeaaaaalllyyyy don't like having my time wasted.

One of the tenure-track faculty was very disappointed.  She is an exceptionally tough professor in the classroom, and at first students resent her for it, but ultimately, by the time they are graduating and doing the exit interviews, they LOVE her for it and practically fall all over themselves about how amazingly brilliant she is and how much they learned from her.  Plus, their mention of how tough she is helps account for why some students give her low scores on her end of semester evaluations.  Well, I am glad that at least now she can be sure she's doing something right in her teaching.  It is hard being a hard teacher (but it sure looks easy being a lame chair).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

In which I stress out about my son's wonderful life

Sat through nearly 3 hours of baseball tryouts today.

Yes, you read that correctly.  Baseball.  In September.  In the middle of football season.

He is trying out for the "competitive league" for baseball.  Previously he was in Little League.  But this new league is tough--22 kids trying out for 11 spots.  And there were already 11 kids on last year's team, so it will be hard for any new kids to break in.  But we'll see.  He did a great job--definitely gave it his best effort and did so without stressing out (to say the least).

In the middle of tryouts, the coach called them together and I see my son raising his hand really high.  He says something, and I hear the coach say, "You mean right now?  In the middle of tryouts?"  Son nods.  Coach tells him to go find his parents.

My son runs up and hands me a tooth!  A baby tooth, not a dental emergency.

I think it's funny that the coach had to clarify, "You mean right now?"--as if my 10yr old might be just spontaneously sharing with the group something neat that happened to him yesterday.

I've thought many times in the last 6 months or so that my son has a golden life.  He's such a happy kid. He's got good buddies.  Doing well in sports (but isn't obsessed about sports, thank goodness).  Plus, he is doing awesome in school. 

Well, he is doing well in school grade-wise, and doing spectacular in standardized testing.  He has always gotten grades of 3s and 4s (scale 1-4, with 4 being best).  Teachers say nice things about him, particularly in terms of his personality (and his sense of style!).  But they've never been all that impressed with his academics--he's doing "well" but no one uses words for him like "outstanding," much less "he has a beautiful mind" (like my colleague was told about her son). And no teacher ever recommended him to be tested for the "academically talented" program.

I always thought he was really smart, but deferred to his teachers versus insisting that he was an unrecognized genius.

I think I made a mistake.  Last spring, out of the blue, I get an email telling me that he and 3 other kids have been recommended to skip two grades in math.   Decision was based solely on a standardized math test given to all 4th graders.

I have to admit, I wondered if there had been a mistake.  The other 3 kids were all officially "academically talented" and some other "academically talented" kids hadn't made the cut.

We just received the state standardized tests yesterday and he scored advanced in all 3--reading, writing, math.   I went to the website and find out that only 4 kids in his school/grade were advanced in reading and 5 kids advanced in writing. 

So I'm feeling guilty that I didn't push these teachers more to recognize his strengths.   Did I give too much respect and deference to these elementary teachers?   Did I unintentionally hold him back?  I was skipped a grade in elementary school, and I didn't want to project my own educational path onto expectations for my son.  But did I set the bar too low?

See, that's me--even when news is unexpectedly good, I find a reason to stress out--missed opportunities, misplaced trust, etc.  I will get him tested for the "academically talented" program.  He obviously is scoring better than some of them on these tests.  And who knows--maybe better than all of them!

Later I might post on my theories about his teachers' stereotypes for "academically talented" kids and why my son wasn't recognized as such.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Baby Llama

I took my daughter along on a quick grocery trip.  In the parking lot she cried, "Ahhhh, that's so cute! Mom, I just saw a baby llama in a car!"  So we had to drive back through the parking lot, up and down the aisles because she wasn't quite sure which car it was in. 

Turns out it was actually a giant white German shepherd-type dog.  

The dog was cute, but I was so looking forward to a baby llama!

Football Grandma

We just returned from my son's football game.  I don't know most of the parents or kids, so I was trying to be friendly.  I asked a woman I was standing next to which was her son.  She was completely put out, replying that she was not the mom but the grandmother! 

Geeeeez...is it such an insult to be mistaken for someone younger?!  I don't know why, but it bothered me the whole game.   I felt both very sorry that I had insulted her, but also irritated that she'd be insulted.

Warning--Some daycare situations will drive you crazy!

A post at Mommy/Prof's blog reminded me about how hard it was for us as parents of a toddler and first grader back when we moved here about four years ago.  When you move, you typically lose your support system of neighbors/friends that can help out in a pinch. 

Plus, in a new job it is hard to insist, "All meetings must end at 5pm sharp so I can pick up my kids before daycare calls child services!  No, seriously, stop talking! I'm leaving!  You better not make any important decisions once I'm gone....!" 

We were so pressed for time when we first arrived that I put my toddler in one of those commercial daycare centers--a chain.  By the time I got there (5:15), it seemed every kid was bawling and the daycare workers seemed totally frazzled. 

So I did my homework and we found a woman near the elementary school that did daycare of young kids and then had elementary kids come over once school got out.  This was far better for the kids, and both were quite happy there. 

Unfortunately, the woman slowly drove us absolutely nuts.  We had to pick up by 5pm (who gets off work at 4:30?).  But sometimes she'd take the kids on an afternoon outing, in which case she'd never get them back by 5pm and we'd all just sit in her living room waiting.  She did not provide lunch or snacks, but had complicated rules about what types of lunches on what days.  Despite her own rules and her training as a nurse, she fed my daughter raw cake batter, at which point we discovered that my daughter is allergic to eggs.

And in addition to those and many other issues, there was something about her personality that was completely noxious to adults.  But all the parents kept up the appearance of getting along with her.  After a year and a half, we finally couldn't take it anymore and left.  That set off the rest of the parents, who also quit.  Now, 2.5 years later we parents still run into each other and vent about how stressful and perfectly awful she was (only for parents; kids still remember the time with great fondness and they also learned a lot from her). 

My lesson from all that was that daycare needs to work for both parents and kids.  The research I've come across on preschool is that once it is above a certain basic level in terms of quality, kids turn out fine and without great variances in outcomes. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Au Pair Catch-22

Today is a big rush of a teaching day for me.  Then I run home to pick up my daughter at 2:30. I pick her up Thursdays, partner does it Tuesdays, and we have our babysitter do it MWF. 

My daughter loves to play with her neighbor friend.  They play at our house, and they play so nicely and quietly up in her room that I am able to get at least another hour's worth of work done in the afternoon. 

But that might come to an end because the friend's mom--my neighbor--has an au pair for her two girls.  And the au pair's contract states that she cannot watch anyone else's child--so my daughter can never ever go over to her friend's house to play before 5:30pm (and after 5:30pm their family eats and goes to bed).  The girls can only play over here.  That is an odd imbalance, but I'm OK with it because that stipulation is meant to protect the au pair from being overworked and otherwise taken advantage of.

But now, the mom is concerned that her daughter is at our house too much (1 hr, 3-4times/wk).  Her younger daughter doesn't get as much play time with her sister.  But it also seems that the au pair is sometimes sitting at home with no kids when the parents get home, as both kids are at their friends' houses.  And that seems to be a problem.  Basically, they don't want to overwork her (as many families with au paires seem to), but I think they want her to be actively caring for the girls all of her 45-hr week and thus getting their money's worth. 

Something of a Catch-22. She's still figuring out what she wants (the mom, that is).  But she mentioned limiting her daughter to one trip to our house a week.  That option sucks--for me and the girls, anyway.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Some good advice

Yesterday our admin assistant gave us some good advice for surviving red-tape bureaucracy in academia:
"It is better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission."

This is applicable to questions that do not involve moral/ethical dilemmas, of course!  And very handy, given that some permission-givers in administration can take a long time getting back to you with permission!

Eliminating Tenure?

Yesterday, faculty and staff went out for tapas and wine.  We had a lovely time and even managed to speak of things other than work.  On the ride home, I was feeling very positive about my job and my work environment.

Then I got home and read yet another NYT article suggesting the elimination of tenure, and my outlook took a decided turn south.  Frankly, academia is much less attractive without tenure.  And I'd need to get paid a lot more to do it in order to make up for lack of job security.

My first faculty job was in a small liberal arts college that did not have tenure.  I left after a year, largely because of that.  I might well have stayed otherwise, as it was in a lovely place.

This points to a problem that those advocating to eliminate tenure haven't discussed much.  Tenure wouldn't be eliminated all at once everywhere.  So the better or more marketable would flee to those institutions still granting tenure.  The newly nontenured institutions would take a big hit--one that I'm hoping the public R1 universities, at least, wouldn't be willing to risk.  But anyone concerned about the apparent growing division between public and private universities might do well to consider this (assuming the public universities strapped for cash would be first to move toward tenure elimination).

Another scenario would be a gradual elimination of tenure, which I believe is already occurring.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Laboring on Labor Day

I didn't get as much labor completed on Labor Day as I had planned.  This morning I marched with the two kids and their elementary school in the annual Labor Day Parade for our town.

About half the town marches in the parade, the other half watches.  Kids split into two groups--thrower of candy (in the parade) and catcher of candy (watching the parade).  My kids love being in the spotlight, so naturally they marched.

I marched with them, but I marched next to my daughter's friend's mom, who is also a professor at my university and is in the same discipline.  So we chatted about work (and kids) while marching in the parade, which was good for me because we got to vent a bit.  Plus, I was multi-tasking, and every bit of that helps.

The girls are in a "I want to do it myself" stage and so kept marching ahead us.  But they allowed my son to march with them (indeed, they felt honored), and he was rather sweet about it.  Maybe that will become the norm for him....

Then I dragged myself to work, which wouldn't have been such an effort if I had been able to go in the morning.   But I completed a lot of busy-work tasks plus sent in an ms. review for a journal--only 6 days late.  What?! Like I'm the first one to commit that crime! Plus, they only gave me 3 weeks to complete it.  The new norm is 1 month in my discipline--but if you are the one submitting, don't expect to see your ms. reviewed for at least 3 months.

In sum, part of my work-life balancing act requires that I work on Labor Day.  Hmmmphf.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Universe Doesn't Need Us

Riding to school on Friday, my kindergartner said, "Mom, I don't understand why we're here.  Since the universe doesn't need the earth and people, why are we here?  Why did the universe make us?"  Pretty big question for a five year-old. 

I thought, Hey, that's a great way to start my new blog!  If I didn't write it down, I'd be sure to forget it.

How did I answer?  Well, we only live 3-4 minutes drive from school!  I told her there are a lot of theories, but no one really knows. And then I gave here a quick run-down of the basics of evolution, explaining that this was MY theory.  I later mentioned her question to our new after-school babysitter; she has a cross hanging from both her neck and her rear view mirror, so I thought she might fill in some of the religious theory.

This morning a strange thing happened: the four of us went down into the basement and cleaned it up!  Weird.  It was such a disaster zone, I guess we all just knew it was time.  After an hour or so, my daughter started yelling at her dad, "What are you doing?  Just standing around?  Why aren't you working?!"  It was true, he was just milling around "overseeing" things.  She got him back to work.  I'll have to put her in charge of my son's homework time.

The kids are out of school for three days--Labor Day weekend.  Today I took them to some events in the park, including a dunking tank that was a fundraiser for our school.  I used to LOVE that as a kid!  My son managed to dunk the art teacher.  Three balls for $1; the dunk tank was only set up for 50 minutes.  There was a steady line the whole time.  Did they manage to cycle the kids through quickly enough to make much money?  Frankly, it doesn't seem likely.  But the kids sure had fun!

Then I took them to the neighboring town's indoor pool, which is nicer than the local pool.  I was about to call my ten year-old and his friend out of the pool to go home after an hour, but then they suddenly and spontaneously started playing with my 5 year-old.  She was so clearly relishing this rare attention that we stayed another 45 minutes.

Tomorrow dad (my kids' dad, not mine) has the day off, so he's watching the kids while I go to work.  I'm actually excited about that.  Is that sad?  I'm not sure, so I ask. 

I wish I could work on my book for most of the day, but I have all sorts of reviewing to do (a book review for a journal, a manuscript review for a journal, and a tenure review--gulp).  Plus teaching prep--but I'll probably do that late at night when I should be sleeping.  That's my m.o.