Friday, September 25, 2009

I Contributed


Junebug rolled over today. Next thing you know, he'll be driving my car (or I hope, Rambunctious's car).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Instant Feedback

While I tend to obsess over formal course evaluations (rate me! rate me!) I do often find them of limited use, if no other reason than that they reflect the vagaries of a distinct group of students after I have finished working with that group.

And so, I have begun to put more emphasis on the midterm course evaluation, which has been creeping incrementally forward from midterm, so that I tend to administer them around week 5, when there's been enough get-to-know-you time, but there is still plenty of time to make adjustments that will really affect the workings of the classroom.

The format I use is the stop/start/continue rubric, where students make two columns on the page (one for things I can control, and one for things they can control, individually and collectively). Then they label three rows: Things they'd like to see stop happening (group work, quizzes, classroom chatter), things they'd like to see start happening (candy, more group work, even participation), things they'd like to see continue that are already working (group discussions, paper feedback, tapdancing).

I've taught 9 or 10 sections of this particular course since I've been at BRU so on the one hand, I can anticipate many of the responses (as many students say less group work as ask for more), but that frequency often breeds ossification, and so I really do need to be responsive to trends in the feedback. This semester, for example, students would prefer that we slow down with the material, and make more time for a free-form discussion. This indicates a level of comfort with and respect for their classmates' opnions that--especially with a strong group such as this one--I'm thrilled to oblige. I also picked up a significant, if not overwhelming level of anxiety about the upcoming midterm, which is easy enough to address.

What bugs me, though, and has me even a little rattled, is the response that seeks to debunk the mechanism of the midterm eval itself. I got one response that insisted that the exercise was a joke, and that I was just "getting my jollies" by finding out what class really thought of me, and that I could tell everyone by their handwriting anyway, so it wasn't even anonymous. And while yes, I could correlate handwriting if I were trying, and I do enjoy getting positive feedback, this student is missing the point. Because I will say, I've focused more on hir individual response than any of the "love this course" responses that I get.

The rhetoric of "You're the teacher; stop asking us to do your work for you" is equally troubling, because of course this student is buying into an educational model that is at once passive and at the same time consumerist: "I've paid for your labor; now do the work for me." (The response also mentioned that the close-reading quizzes were little more than bs-ing).

Sigh. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, but I can't help focusing on the one or two students who really are not responding to the work. But because the eval responses really are pretty anonymous, I'm not even sure whom to contact to check in with, nor am I sure if such a reaction would even prove worthwhile. So for now, I'll institute the tweaks to my classroom management, and hope that this person finds a way to obtain hir own education the way ze wants.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

On Responding to Presumption

When I dressed today, I decided I needed to wear some light clothes in bright colors to convey the opposite of the bedraggled state I was in. So when I got out of the shower, I put on a light teal button-down with some light khaki linen pants.

When I went downstairs to pack up my stuff, Willow had graciously set out some food for me to take in for lunch, though instead of the usual small brown shopping bag I often carry (and had accidentally left on campus) the food was placed in a similarly small gift bag, a tiffany-blue thing with an elegant chocolate-brown pattern.

"Hunh." I smiled, "I match my lunch bag."

On the way into campus, I stopped to get a cup of coffee, and the young lady who had just gotten her coffee at the counter, and was on her way out the door, smiled and said, "I like your little handbag."

"Oh my lunchbag? I think I gave my wife some jewelry in this, and we keep recycling it for other things."

"Oh, honey, you don't need to pretend you're married for me!"


I was caught completely off guard by this, and my response as she walked out the door was, "but I really am!" My face was flushed red for the next several minutes.

I'm unnerved by this exchange for any number of reasons. The most knee-jerk response derives from the fact that people often think they can read my sexuality from my clothes and mannerisms, and presume to comment on that reading.

But my own answer to her is equally unnerving to me, because I felt it important, even imperative to disabuse her of her reading? Why had she not read me as straight? This kind of reactionary return to a compulsory heterosexuality should perhaps be more troubling to me as someone who tries to actively work against those notions as the presumption exercised by this young woman. She, at least, wasn't reading me through this compulsory lens, even if her reading was guided by a troubling set of stereotypes.

So as the day was worn on, my embarrassment has shifted from being mistaken as queer to reinforcing a kind of homophobia in my response.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


is an online literary journal focusing on very short form (fewer than 750 words)creative nonfiction. Issue 31 is now available. You should totally go check it out...

Alongside work from Sherman Alexie, Brenda Miller and Ron Arias, you'll find Willow, Rambunctious, and Imperia as characters...