Thursday, April 28, 2011

The choir needs to kick it up a notch

Well, I'm done.  Done with classes.  My students were very nice on the last day, which hopefully means they feel they learned a lot and liked the class.  I liked them (well, all but one). 

My son's elementary school choir had their performance tonight. I've never really been big on choirs--didn't like being in them, much less listening to them. Of course, it's a lot better when your child is in the choir.  But the music teacher picked some boring stinkers this semester.  I wish he'd stick to the proven crowd-pleasers, frankly.  Why experiment?  You could definitely tell which ones the kids liked to sing (the only two crowd-pleasers in the bunch). 

My neighbor, who volunteers with the choir, didn't like the songs either. She says it's because the music teacher is going through a divorce, which is too bad.  He has seemed kind of sad lately.

After the kid choir, a men's a cappella group sang. Now they had fun songs!  Plus, it's just nice to see people have so much joy in what they're doing.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A mean student who cries in my office--and the many others who amaze and inspire me

I have some amazing students this semester.  One student is from Afghanistan; he brings such wonderful insights into the class, particularly through his written work.  Another student is a "Lost Girl" from Sudan.  She came to the U.S. only about 5 years ago, from an orphanage in Kenya.  She recently found out her mother is still alive and hopes to return home to see her this summer.  She is struggling with the work but will pass the class. I am excited to see she has signed up for a class with me next year as well. 

To say these students have experienced hardship doesn't quite capture it.  Both fled major wars as children. 

In this same class, I also have a student who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, a student who has a very scary eating disorder (she's been hospitalized; I worry about her), a student undergoing radiation for cancer, and a student with clinical depression (and a note from her psychologist).  And those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head.

And then I have the student from a privileged family  in X country--a country with a GDP per capita that puts it in the middle-range on the UN scale, similar to Hungary and Poland.  She is a B/B- student who looks in the mirror and sees an A student.  It is my fault, apparently, that she is getting Bs.  Don't I know that English isn't her first language (no, I didn't--she speaks English flawlessly and without an accent--this part of her really is impressive)? 

She went to high school in the U.S. and before that attended a private foreign-language school in her home country.  She has writing problems, but not any worse than my other B students.  And my thought on this issue is that she has a wealth of resources on campus to help her with her writing if she feels she does not have the same level of preparation for English-language writing as other students. 

But do NOT ask me for a grade change on that basis.  Especially since I already told her that the main problems with her paper involved lack of a thesis and minimal critical engagement with the text.  Really, she deserved a B- on that paper, not a B.

She has come in to my office to question every grade she has ever received, including the quizzes that test on students' command of the facts.  She just came in to question her paper grade for the second time.  She is an angry student, but she tears up each time I tell her (fairly gently) that she got the grade she deserved, detailing what is missing from her paper or essay exam, etc.  She has full-on cried twice--but still with hostility.  So it isn't a situation in which I can feel much sympathy for her. 

Thankfully, such students have been few and far between.  And she will soon be gone.

Was it mean of me to ask her, after much back and forth about her grade, if she is getting As in all her other classes?  She thought that was a really mean question. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Where's MY study guide?

In both classes, students have been asking for the study guide for the final.  Asking a lot.  I'm not against giving it out at this point.  But still, it is 11-12 days before their final.  And the problem is, I don't have a study guide that I can just pull up on my computer and send out!  I have to CREATE it.  And that takes about 4-5 hours per guide.  And I've been busting my butt lately with lectures, etc. 

They don't know it, but it will obviously turn my Saturday into a workday. There's simply not enough hours in the week.  Especially now that our after-school babysitter called in sick this afternoon, setting me back on my workload even further.

Where's MY study guide?   You know, the one that helps me learn about how to have both an academic career and a nice family life?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wow, that's weird--a diet plan that is working

For the first time in ... oh about forever, I have been losing weight.  The last 2+ weeks I have lost 3 pounds--and relatively painlessly.  Actually, I only diet about once ever 5-6 years.  I'm not officially overweight, but the 1 lb./yr weight gain is really starting to add up. 

The iPod app Livestrong (also available on the internet: is key.  With it, I've gone back to the basics, following the "calories in, calories out" model.  In other words, to maintain one's weight, one must not eat more than the calories one expends in energy.

It is easy to enter each thing I eat (type, "apple" or "nature valley trail mix"); the Livestrong app looks up and tracks the calories (plus sodium, fat, protein, sugar...).   I can also enter any exercise, which adds calories back into my "remaining calories" column (how many more calories I can eat that day to stay on track with losing 1 lb/wk).  For me, this has been a great incentive to exercise more.

Surprisingly, I haven't been feeling hungry--not any more, anyway, than when I'm not dieting.  (In contrast to something like the Twinkie Diet.  With that, I'd just get sugar highs and then crashes, at which point I'd be suddenly starving and desperate for food.)  I'm eating many more vegetables and fruits: fewer calories, more nutrients, and keep me feeling full for longer.

We'll see how long this works.  I started at 143.6 lbs and am now down to 140.0 after 2.5 weeks (I'm 5' 5").  The plan is to stay on the "lose 1lb/wk" calorie plan until I get down to 138.  And then I'll move into the "lose 1/2 lb/wk" mode, which will be easier to maintain over a longer period.

Beyond that, we'll see. I don't want to get my hopes up too high, as I my get frustrated and then abandon the diet.  Last year my doctor gave me the goal of 137, so if I get there, I will be very happy!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

My daughter wants to be a dentist. No grimacing or groaning!

My 5yr old daughter wants to be a dentist when she grows up.  She actually gets excited to go to the dentist! 

Why? Probably several reasons:
  • Everyone in our dentist office is female except for the receptionist.  (And the dentist's husband is a stay at home dad!  This dentist is really challenging the gendered division of labor.)
  • The dental hygienists are very pretty.  So she probably thinks of dental work as a glamorous job.
  • She generally is interested in science and the body (including teeth).
This is a major step up, in my opinion, from wanting to be a princess when she grows up.  So I'm trying to nourish her interest in teeth and the body.  But the general public is not making that easy.

Yesterday, daughter and I went to the science and nature museum.  There is a kid's "discovery zone" which includes a life-size plastic body with removable organs.  Daughter and I were busy removing and replacing organs when some random woman comes up and tries to engage my daughter by grimacing over the organs and repeatedly saying, "Ooooo! Yucky!  Ick!"  What the....?  This is a SCIENCE and NATURE museum.  The point is to engage kids' interest in SCIENCE and NATURE.  It isn't a Halloween-style horror show.  I couldn't get daughter's interest focused back on the body parts after that.

There have been other acts of discouragement. 

As I wrote in a previous post, I let daughter participate in a fashion show.  The worst part  was that they asked each kid what they wanted to be when they grew up, and the woman filling out my daughter's form grimaced and groaned when daughter said she wanted to be a dentist.  And then, during the fashion show, as my daughter walked down the aisle, the MC announced that she wanted to be a dentist when she grew up.  And then the MC also grimaced and groaned! 

In effect, they were making fun of her career ambitions, playing it up for a few laughs.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised that this was the attitude at a Nordstrom fashion show....

I don't remember anyone discouraging my son's career ambitions like this.  But maybe I'm just more sensitive with my daughter.

My mom and dad last year took a trip to Costa Rica to have semi-major work done on their teeth--they said it was cheaper to have the work done there, including once hotel, flight, great food, etc were factored in.  So they had a ten-day vacation, with a little dental work thrown in.  But I'm hoping that Nordstrom didn't ruin my chances for having free dental care closer to home.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

I love student evaluation week!

Our administrative assistant has announced it!  Student evaluation forms are in our mailboxes.  We must pass them out this coming week.  Yaaaaay!

Why do I love student evaluation week?
1.  Like robins and daffodils signal spring, student evaluations signal end-of-semester is coming! I love both signs of spring and signs of end-of-semester.

2.  Once the students fill out evaluations, I feel free.  I can relax with the rest of the lectures, at least a bit.  I don't have to be so polite to the whiny or rude students.  When students pressure me to hand out the study guide earlier than stated on the syllabus, I don't have to stress out about it.

There is this idea out there that professors at research universities don't care about teaching.  But all the faculty I know seem to at least think that they care--care a lot!  And my department has excellent teachers, which makes life hard for me since I have to keep up with them and their high evaluation scores.  But after evaluations on Tuesday, pressure is off!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

This Is a Public Service Announcement--With Crickets

If your child bursts through the door after school and asks if s/he can adopt a lizard ("anole") after their class is done studying them, politely but firmly decline the offer.  If you are wavering--after all, how much trouble can lizards be?--ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do I enjoy driving to the pet store every single week to buy live crickets (lizard food; $2.70/wk)?
2. Do I like the sound of crickets chirping in my house.....constantly?
3. Do I enjoy arranging for care for one more pet when we go on vacation?
4. Is $120+ for the cage and accessories a good way to spend my money?

If your answer is "no" to any of the above, make sure any other adult in the house sees this list before saying "yes" without consulting you.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Wine and the university--who picks up the tab?

Busy week.  Graded 48 papers over two days.  Taught, sat on an honors thesis defense, met with students, finished making a quiz, all with 4 hours of sleep the night before. 

That wore me out for the next day, which is just as well, since I had to spend 7am-12noon reading and sitting on a dissertation defense.  Thankfully, it was a fabulous dissertation and defense.  Somebody better hire him soon.  He really is good.

I hope I'm recharged enough by tomorrow to finish that paper and SEND IT OUT.  This will be harder than it otherwise would be, since I am going to dinner with an invited speaker and several faculty tonight, late, 7:30.  Late for me anyways.  I am counting on having wine at dinner--will make talking to mostly humanities faculty easier.  I like humanities faculty one on one, but in a group it is sometimes hard for me to connect (or understand what they're talking about).

I'm at a public university.  The university will pick up the tab for the food and non-alcohol drinks, but we have to pay for our own alcohol.  Awkward with guests, as we never seem to arrange ahead of time about how to contribute $ towards the guest's booze and who will pay that bill.  We don't want them to pay for their own drinks, of course.  In our system, others at the table have to foot the bill for the guest's drinks.  I find that many grad students and faculty don't know that this is the case at some universities--I certainly didn't. 

So if you are a candidate for a job, think twice before you order (like my friend from graduate school did) a double Johnny Walker on the rocks.  Actually, there are many reasons why you might not want to do that.

The two big public universities I've worked for don't pay for alcohol, period.  How does it work at other colleges?  Any pointers for people on the job market on ordering a drink at dinner?  Don't do it? Wait to see if others are drinking, and what they are drinking? 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Big Buck$!

I just received my annual check from the university press publisher of my book--$50!  Woohoo!  I plan to spend it on something special. 

Actually, I never expected to make money off the book, just to make tenure.  So I'm good with it.  My book has now sold 1,097 copies.  That sounds so small (it IS small), but for disciplines such as mine, it's not bad.  I went to a talk by an editor specializing in my field, and he said that the average number of books sold in the field was 750. 

Now to finish book #2!  I just hope someone wants to publish it.  I've been working on articles too much lately.