Category Archives: Burnout

The answer is, the question is

So when it all comes down,
what it all comes down to, what
the answer is, the question is
how I did, how did I
spend them,
those bits of time,
my moments, my allotment of them,
what did I do with them
where did I leave them
did I wring them dry
did I use them well
then clean and oil them,
put them away to use again–
impossible–not something
I would be likely to do
and not something
anyone can do with a moment

I gorged on some
and let the shiny wrappers pile right up
and this one–this one
I’m holding like an injured dove
but there are more, so many,
so many, they scuttled away
like roaches or I stomped them
like roaches
and anyway they’re gone

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I wrote this poem whilst on retreat at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton, Wisco (a truly special place)

If I Loved You Before the Election, I Probably Still Do

If I loved you before the election, I probably still do.
Even more than how you voted, I’m thinking about
what’s good and bad, what scares us most, what’s true.

I’m worried who the bad things are happening to.
Our list of bad things might be different, but
if I loved you before the election, I probably still do.

It isn’t like I thought we lived in a commune,
but Jesus, how can we be so far apart
on what’s good and bad, what scares us most, what’s true?

Do you feel this frightened when my side wins and you lose?
I’m sorry if you do. I didn’t know that.
If I liked you before the election, I probably still do,

unless I can only be your friend if I voted like you.
It makes me anxious when we’re asking what
is good and bad, what scares us most, what’s true

because we can’t even manage to watch the same news.
It looks like a storm cloud to me. What’s it look like to you?
If I loved you before the election, I probably still do.
What’s good? What’s bad? What scares us most? What’s true?

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Don’t get me wrong–I have really firm opinions about the election. My side lost in the primary and the general. I’m trying to figure out how to process it, how to understand it, what to do. But one of the things that freaks me out the most is how far apart we are as a country, as a state. It feels to me like we could bust out into our own version of the Troubles any moment. (Some violence is already here.) I honestly don’t know what to do.  I decided to start re-learning Spanish.  And I did buy, but haven’t started reading yet, Katherine Cramer’s book, The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

And speaking of Scott Walker, here are some thoughts I had on similar matters five years ago. I just read the Cadfael books again and they still seem to have so much to say about disagreeing and either empathizing or not with the people you’re disagreeing with. There are two parts,  Grief for the Uncousinly Chasm. And then Grief for the Uncousinsly Chasm, Part II. There’s a part III I haven’t had the nerve to write yet, on the chasm between what I believed when I was actively Baptist and what I believe now as what I call a Zen Baptist–the chasm between what some of my friends and family believe and what I do.

You can take this line from the villanelle as either taking the Lord’s name in vain or a prayer (or both–I mean it as both):

Jesus, how can we be so far apart?

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It looks like bleak November to me. What’s it look like to you?

Monday Morning Nonetheless

“And all my senses rise against this coming back to you”  Leonard Cohen

Almost an ampersand of fog
against the bare trees on the bluff.
The wind must have swirled it around,
or maybe it’s smoke. It’s cold enough
someone could have had a fire last night.

Such beauty and such mystery right there
on a Monday morning, nonetheless,
I have to drive beyond it to where
light industrial meets water treatment
and everything is ordinary, planned, and organized,
and on the other side of that, my job.fullsizerender

Faithless Delegate, Brokered Heart

Being a battleground state is exhausting.
My red counties, my blue counties,
my precincts, my wards–they spar and spit
at each other, they tally slights, they want revenge.

The answer to Rodney King’s question is simply we can’t
get along. We don’t even all
get to vote, and still the turnout is huger
than it has been since the early 70s. But

when it comes right down to the chad of it,
my brain and all my good habits
don’t stand a fucking chance against
the power of illogic. This panic attack

is a faithless delegate on the convention floor,
voting for whomever he pleases,
my heart littered with campaign trash. I won’t
demand a recount. I just want everything quiet again.

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NOT THE EASIEST WEEK AT WORK? YEAH, ME NEITHER

“I was in the house when the house burned down”
Warren Zevon

The gears are grinding hard today, the sound
of conflict, disruption, and general unrest
is metallic, shearing, unpleasant at best.
The eruption of what used to be safe underground
is nothing like a garden coming up in spring
and also nothing like a shy girl speaking up.
It’s not a birth and also not a blossoming.
It is something like taking a painful dump.
And yet it’s very nearly exhilarating
to watch someone say “Enough. No more.
I’m done. Just stop .” Even for those who think
they could endure.

It really does and doesn’t matter.

You’re just trying to enjoy your sandwich, to appreciate
the privilege of being alive on this crazy day.

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Because Letterman ended last night, I’ve been thinking again about Warren Zevon. We told our son at breakfast this morning that we considered “Zevon” as a first name for him, as well as “Warren.” We went with Wendell instead, but we’re guessing by the time he’s in college, he’ll have met at least a couple of Zevon’s.

Crazy week at work. So crazy, I probably can’t even talk about it. But wow.

Anyway, this Rolling Stone compilation is nice, of some serious moments from Mr. Letterman, and in the Zevon one, he says his famous line, “Enjoy every sandwich.”

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Even broken glass can be pretty.

Even broken glass can be pretty.

(image by Duke Lenoir photo from Creative Commons–attribution license.)

“Feedback is what happens second” Part I

Gearing up for spring semester begins late in fall semester for me. That’s a practical matter–if I waited until the fall semester was over to gear up for spring, I’d be behind schedule immediately. It’s more than a practical matter, though. There comes a time in every semester, the deepest, darkest time (which in fall corresponds with shorter days and longer nights) of a semester, when it’s easier to see what’s not working rather than what is working.

One of my ongoing goals as a teacher is to return student work faster. I struggle with it for a number of reasons:

  • I don’t like delivering bad news. I absolutely love sitting down with students and providing feedback on drafts and revisions, but at that point, the possibilities for success are still wide open. With a final draft, some doors are shut. I’ve wondered if switching to a portfolio system would help me here because of how much I enjoy giving feedback early in the process.
  • I’m a master procrastinator when faced with unpleasant tasks.
  • There isn’t a clear deadline for when student work has to be returned except in terms of when they need to turn in the next assignment, or at the very end of the semester. This is one reason I think a portfolio system might work better–I’d be grading final drafts at the end of the semester when the deadlines are very firm and real.

I’m not saying these are GOOD reasons, but they’re reasons I’ve discovered.  I just realized earlier this month that I’m always slower about returning student work in spring semester & one reason for that is probably because I tend to have more problems with anxiety and depression in the spring (ironic, because I love light and love when the days begin to grow longer). I discovered it because I keep track of when student work comes in and when I return it (I call it TIR for turned-in-returned rate) on a spreadsheet & I have numbers going back several years. The good news is that overall, I’m doing much better than I used to. The bad news is that my numbers have gotten ugly the last couple of spring semesters….

Anyway, I’ve decided that I’m going to try something I’ve never tried in relation to solving this problem. (Other things I continue to do: keeping track, rewarding myself if I meet my goals at different points in the semester, reporting to someone on how I’m doing–which is what I was doing earlier this month when I discovered the WORSE IN SPRING PATTERN.  I was putting my numbers in my yearly activity report.)

I’m problematizing the problem. I’m going to do research first, on feedback, and see what the research says.  That’s where I am right now, and at least at the moment, my plan is to report on the research at different points in the semester.

I know it’s important–feedback is the thing that an instructor can do in a real class that an instructor can’t do in a MOOC, and however good AI gets, it still seems to me we’re a long way away from computers being able to give good feedback to writers on much beyond sentence complexity, vocabulary, spelling, and some grammar. Feedback is what makes instructors invaluable.

The first article I’m tackling is called “The Power of Feedback” and it’s by John Hattie and Helen Temperly at the University of Auckland.

One of the first quotes that struck me in the article was this one, “Feedback has no effect in a vacuum; to be powerful in its effect, there must be a learning context to which feedback is addressed.”  That’s why they say “feedback is what happens second.”  Instruction has to happen first.  When I read this quote I thought immediately of my discomfort when a student in creative writing asks me for feedback on something they wrote before the class.  I tell them it feels weird because I don’t know what they were trying for, whereas if they wrote in response to an assignment, I know what they were supposed to be trying to do.

I appreciate Hattie & Temperley’s article for their definitions & clarifications, among other things.  Here’s one:  “The claim is made that the main purpose of feedback is to reduce discrepancies between current understandings and performance and a goal. ” To me this emphasizes the importance of backward design–if my students and I don’t know what our goals are, I just don’t stand a chance of providing effective feedback.

These three questions seem so crucial: “Effective feedback must answer three major questions asked by a teacher and/or by a student: Where am I going? (What are the goals?), How am I going? (What progress is being made toward the goal?), and Where to next? (What activities need to be undertaken to make better progress?)”

I particularly appreciate the emphasis on the role students play in the feedback process. Here’s the good news:  it’s not a passive role. Here are some things students can do. They can

  • “increase their effort, particularly when the effort leads to tackling more challenging tasks or appreciating higher quality experiences rather than just doing ‘more.'”
  • “develop effective error detection skills, which lead to their own self-feedback aimed at reaching a goal.”
  • “seek better strategies to complete the task or be taught them, or they can obtain more information.”

So I dived into this article hoping for motivation for returning student work faster, and it does address that several pages in, and I’ll get to that as I post on the topic, but for now, it’s met a goal I didn’t even realize I had–get me pumped up about a new semester.

What can I do with this enthusiasm? Lots.  “Teachers can also assist by clarifying goals, enhancing commitment or increased effort to reaching them through feedback….More generally, teachers can create a learning environment in which students develop self-regulation and error detection skills.”

I need to model self-assessment and self-regulation by setting goals, monitoring them, and then making adjustments (all processes discussed in the article, but also widely discussed any time metacognition comes up).

So my goal for returning student work in terms of promptness is this.  By the end of Week 5, I want my overall average to be below 7 days, and the average for longer assignments to be below 10 days, but I want the standard deviation to be 2.0 or lower–this past fall my averages met those goals, but the standard deviation was too high (I was still keeping some longer assignments wayyyyyyy too long).

a little poem I wrote with big feelings

a little poem I wrote with big feelings

Beyond that, I’m setting some goals on the quality of feedback. I want to set the questions and good points from “The Power of Feedback” in front of myself as I start to communicate with students about their work, which I’m less than a week away from (classes start on Monday and the first assignments come in next Friday–sooner, since some students will want me to look at rough drafts, more than likely).

My plan is to report on my turned-in-returned rate after Week 5, or sooner, and I’ll also write more about this article & others I’ve found and will find.

Meanwhile–it’s back to finishing up syllabi & schedules for next week!

 

It’s Hard to Teach When Gollum’s in Your Class

It’s hard to teach when Gollum’s in your class.
He’s not the ideal student by any stretch,
but he’ll blame you if he doesn’t pass.

He’s very disruptive, all that muttering “my precious”
and small group work with him is just a bitch.
It’s hard to teach when Gollum’s in your class

because even saying Sméagol when you take attendance,
even smiling when you really want to screech,
you can be sure that he’ll blame you if he doesn’t pass.

He misses class a lot. Just vanishes.
Then swears he was too there. It’s hard to teach
the earnest students when Gollum’s in your class,

but you owe it to the ones who are not treacherous,
the step by by step by steps, the clear approach.
That rat-like monkey will blame you if he doesn’t pass,

but don’t dumb things down. Just do your best.
Backwards design might save you in a hitch.
It’s hard to teach if Gollum’s in your class,
but don’t blame yourself if he shall not pass.

 

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If fish were learning outcomes, Gollum would get an A+.

If fish were learning outcomes, Gollum would get an A+.

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(photo by Larry and Linda on Flickr, Creative Commons)

(OH that last line–“He shall not pass” sounds so foreordained and the teacher in me keeps hoping, hoping that Gollum will pull it together and squeak out a decent grade. But how can I not play on “shall not pass?” Decisions, decisions…)