Ending on an Up Note: Evaluations

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…evaluation time! If I didn’t know better, I’d think that cartoonist Doug Savage, who writes the wonderful daily web comic Savage Chickens: Cartoons on Sticky Notes , worked at our place. Does this sound familiar to anyone?


Enjoy your weekend…and doing those evals.



Connecting with Dear Committee Members

ReadingthuRsday-R2On a recent trip to The University of Georgia, sitting and waiting in the car for my daughter to finish a class, I read Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher. Connections flooded my brain because my true start into Higher Education began with my doctoral work at The University of Georgia and my luck at obtaining a graduate teaching assistantship. Dear Committee Members is described on the book jacket in the following manner:

“Jason Fitger is a beleaguered professor of creative writing and literature at Payne University, a small and not very distinguished college in the Midwest. His department is facing draconian cuts and squalid quarters. His once-promising writing career is in the doldrums, as is his romantic life, in part of his unwise use of his private affairs for his novel. His star (he thinks) student can’t catch a break with his brilliant (he thinks) work Accountant in a Bordello, based on Melville’s “Bartleby by Scrivener.”

“In short, Fitger’s life is a tale of woe, and the vehicle this droll and inventive novel uses to tell that tale is a deries of hilarious letters of recommendation that he is endlessly called upon by his students and colleagues to produce, each one of which is a small masterpiece of high dudgeon, low spirits, and passive-aggressive strategies.”

Of course, I was tempted to read this little jewel. I felt an instant kinship with Jason Fitger who was required to write endless recommendation letters while maneuvering through all the baggage of higher education. I have written some letters gleefully, so happy to describe the stellar qualities of a student or colleague. Dear-committee-membersHowever, many times I have suggested to students and even colleagues, I might not be the best person to write a letter for them because I could not bring myself the say the things one normally says in a letter of recommendation. I do not have the bravado of Dr. Fitger who has no qualms about telling the truth in wonderful language I only wish I could use. The pithy letters Jason T. Fitger, Professor of Creative Writing/English writes for students and colleagues are just so on target. I laughed, but then the writing was a little close to the bone, so in some places, I felt sad. I have been in higher education more years than I want to admit. I have written many letters, faced various budget cuts, struggled with reduced resources, and watched faculty members lose some of their academic drive. I have wondered about my own role as an academic and mid-level academic manager. Many of my own struggles I found in the letters written by Dr. Fitger.

4.1.2A few years back, a fellow professor suggested I read Straight Man by Richard Russo. Straight Man tells the struggles of a professor who is weighed down with his dueling roles of being a Department Chair and a faculty member no longer in the bloom of his academic life. One of the parts of the books still in my mind and shows itself when I am in a faculty meeting is the passage where he laments what he could have accomplished with all the time he has spent in endless meetings. He wonders how many poems he could have written. At the time, I was serving as a Department chair, and I could relate to many of the laments of Dr. William Henry Devereaux, Jr. I even went through a period of time where I tried to write some verse while attending meetings. I was not very successful, but it gave me a secret giggle.Inservice

Readers who engage with fiction and non-fiction usually do so because they make connections. In literacy circles, we like to talk about Text-to-Self connections, Text-to-World Connections, and Text-to-Text connections. The similarity between the protagonists, settings, and tone of Dear Committee Members and Straight Man made it very easy for me to make all three types of connections. I found Dear Committee Members at our on-campus library at Hopkinsville Community College. When I read the book’s description inside the front cover, I immediately felt it was a book for me because I was instantly connected to the topic.

Connections to Dear Committee Members came full circle when Dr. Jodi Patrick Holschuh, a graduate student who attended The University of Georgia a few years after I did and who was lucky enough to have Dr. Sherrie Nist-Olejnik as a major professor, proclaimed on Facebook the need for all of us to read Dear Committee Members. Once again, I am reminded how a book can help us make a connection to our own lives and make a connection with others.


Snow Bound or Muscle-bound?

karenAs Brian wrote Monday, it’s good to get back to normal, whatever that may be. My A&P students are mostly a diligent lot, and as the snow piled up and the week wore on, their emails to me increased in proportion to their anxiety. We already use an online learning platform in my classes, so I reassured them that they could actually read their texts and complete the assignments. I also added a few items to spice things up and take the place of the quiz each class missed.

My first-semester students were learning the names of the muscles. Ordinarily, we would use the models in our lab to help with this task. Their online assignments had lots of pictures, but, as I often remind them, people aren’t paper dolls. I asked each student to find a picture featuring a photo of a real human body in a magazine or online (with a no-porn-please proviso). Next, the students were to number ten of the muscles, making a key to accompany their numbered photo. Here’s a sampling of what I received:photo 1photo 2photo 3


We returned to class yesterday, and the students participated in a lab identifying muscles on the models in our room. I was pleased and surprised by how much they had learned on their own. To be honest, I felt, well, a bit redundant.

There was obvious pleasure in learning as they quizzed one another in groups, but they had clearly felt the pleasure of autonomy as they took responsibility for their own learning during the bad weather. This teacher is properly humbled.

Classhack: Bingo!

Dr. Howard has been offering our faculty tips on helping students with the vocabulary specific to our disciplines. This is a special challenge for anatomy & physiology, which sometimes seems more like a foreign language course than a science class. For example, the chapter on muscle physiology has a cornucopia of tongue twisters that are difficult to connect to the students’ regular speaking and reading vocabularies. Think “sarcoplasmic reticulum” and “endomysium” and “terminal cisterns.” The list is so long that students are apt to lose heart and tune me out.

So, at the beginning of the class, I pass out the grid below, designed by my dear husband when I first started teaching. I ask the students to write each new word that they hear in any of the spaces. Typically, the spaces fill quickly, and I encourage them to double up by writing more words in each space. bingo

For the grand finale of the day’s class, I offer  definitions of newly introduced terms. The class responds with the appropriate term, and members who have listed it in their grid mark it off their grids. The first class member to mark off an entire row on their grid calls out “Bingo!” and is rewarded with a tossed chocolate kiss. We usually play several rounds. The students then have a self-generated vocabulary list to take home for study.

The Pleasure of Getting Back to Normal

Brian picThe idea of normal is dubious at best, especially in a culture in which technology and knowledge grow exponentially. For many folks, “It’s crazy” and “I feel overwhelmed” are normal. Speed is in; slowing down is not. So how could anything be of a magnitude to make a crazy, overwhelmed life seem normal? How about almost a foot of snow where according to The Kentucky New Era the last such snow was in 1960, and the one before that in 1921?

Western Kentucky is not the land of snow plows and salt trucks. Yes, there are a few—a few. Four wheel drive is not an item factored in that often when buying a vehicle. At first, a monster snow (friends in New England and Alaska mock at me on this) is aesthetic. coffee Witness pre-sunrise, sitting by the window with a hot drink the first morning. Later, kids across the street get out on their sled. It’s a postcard look. How many days is it fun, especially when work piles up?

That’s where the law of opposites comes into play. Think of the times you’ve stubbed your toe only to enjoy moments later how much your toe doesn’t hurt. “My toe doesn’t hurt” is a fleeting state of mind, but nice in the moment. funny-grumpy-cat-meme-monday-goodThe daily grind and regular fare of the “It’s crazy” and “I feel overwhelmed life” of the regular workday will feel normal after a week of being snowed in and out of the classroom and office at school.

Kroger will even restock its bread and milk. Not every register operator will be called to the front. We’ll be back to normal—well, sort of.

Ending on an Up Note: Had Enough

Given what our neighbors to the north have experienced, it would be unseemly to whine. Still, this week’s arctic blast has challenged us. For example, how can we resist the tasty goodies in our pantries, especially the last of the cookies?


Of course, you can always channel your energies into a dandy craft project. Australia’s oldest man, 109-year-old “Alfie” Date, knits sweaters to protect penguins who were drenched in an oil spill. The sweaters minimize the amount of oil the birds ingest while preening.


The best approach may be to embrace the situation, like these red pandas at the Cincinnati Zoo, who are making the rounds on the morning news shows today.


Enjoy the ongoing “weekend,” which is now at 7 days and counting.

Snow Days

ReadingthuRsday-R2As a child, nothing excited more than the gift of a Snow Day when school was cancelled and the normal routines disturbed. For a child who does not have to worry about feeding everyone, getting back and forth to work, and keeping the heat going, a snow day is fun. I admit, even as an adult, a Snow Day, still is somewhat exciting. To prepare for the weather event, like all Southerners I went to the grocery story to do some stocking up. However, I did make one more stop. I went to our local public library and stocked up on library books for the week of inclement weather. Of course, I could load an electronic device with reading materials, but when I think about Snow days, I think about long hours of reading books from the library.cozyread

I fondly recall a series of Snow days when I was in the third grade when I was lucky enough to have a copy of Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I remember lying on the couch and reading and imagining how Laura lived. I still remember the first chapter where Laura tells us about playing in the attic because it was so cold outside. littlehouseinthebigwoods_thumbAccording to Laura, “The attic was a lovely place to play. The large round pumpkins made beautiful chairs and tables. The red peppers and the onions dangled overhead. The hams and venison hung in their paper wrappings, and all the bunches of dried herbs, the spicy herbs for cooking and the bitter herbs for medicine, gave the place a dusty-spiced smell.” I still remember conjuring up that attic in my head, and I played along with Mary and Laura.

While I had to look up the exact words of the quote, I knew exactly where to look in my copy of the book. The picture of the attic is still in my head. The strong images from beloved books often transcend time and place. I feel very lucky to have the image of Laura’s attic tucked into my memory. I also have to admit I am happy to have a snow day that includes a stack of library books and a little time stolen from a regular routine and responsibility.pushing-daisies

I am eager to get back to my stack of books. I am still making images in my head as I read, and I still feel I am walking along with characters and visiting new places. Happy reading to all and stay warm.