Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The Teaching / Studenting Plan

This upcoming semester, which begins next week, I'm teaching two classes at the most convenient-to-me campus. I have a good teaching schedule: two classes, twice a week, the first of which begins at 11:30 a.m., the second of which ends at 3:50 p.m., with about a 90-minute break in between. I could come home if I'd like to, between classes, since this particular campus is only about 3 1/2 miles away, but I might just stay on campus, pack my lunch, and work or mentally decompress. I'll see how I feel.

My first semester at SLCC, I taught a 7 a.m. class at the South City campus (just over 13 miles away; half an hour drive across the valley); my second class began at 5:30 p.m. at the main campus, so it was an odd schedule. I jumped at the chance, though, because it was my first semester and I was of the mindset that I'd grab whatever was available and be happy about it, because it was only twice a week, and I did have quite a lot of time in between. Once or twice I'd come home from my morning class just as Ed was leaving for work, and then leave for my evening class just as he was getting home. And to be honest, I was so delighted to have an actual teaching job, that I really was happy to teach whatever was available, wherever it was. This also gave me a sense of the different ambience of different campuses; I don't think I've been inside the South City campus since my last class there.

In any case, last semester I was overwhelmed. I was teaching three classes at two different campuses, tutoring for four hours on Friday afternoons, and taking three graduate-level classes. I believe I only subbed once during that time, because if one doesn't sub at least once every three months, one loses one's position within the district, and one would then need to reapply. This wouldn't be a catastrophe, of course, but it would be inconvenient. Fortunately, the classes I was teaching were at the two most convenient campuses - the main campus and the Jordan campus; I did my tutoring at the Jordan campus, and rarely did any students actually come in for tutoring. I was still overwhelmed, though, and for most of the semester I worked, prepped, and/or studied seven days a week. I'm sure there are others who could handle this much better than I and not feel as inundated as I did. Fortunately, I'd taught the English class I teach for several semesters, so I had a feel for the pacing (unlike the first semester at a new school, or teaching a new class for the first time, which requires a bit more preparation). And I did manage to get an A in each of my graduate-level classes, but I don't think I can maintain that level of work for an extended period of time.

This semester I'll only be teaching two classes. I'm taking a break from tutoring, although I'd like an occasional day of substituting so that I'll still be in their pool of substitutes. I am, however, taking another three graduate classes. They're not literature classes, which, as much as I love to read, I found difficult to manage. Literature is not one of my professional interests, and I really don't know why I didn't consider taking electives from one of the other English department programs - it just didn't occur to me, because I'd so gotten in the mindset of literature-classes-as-default.

This semester I'll be taking two classes that fulfill core requirements (Argumentation: Classical through Contemporary, and Literacy and Teaching Writing), and one class that fulfills an elective requirement (Professional Editing, one of the Professional Writing classes). The Professional Writing class runs for an entire semester, while the other two are more intensive seven-week classes that don't run at the same time: One runs for the first seven weeks, and the other runs the last seven weeks. These will be different academic focuses that I think may help me more directly with my teaching, and will cause me to really stretch and push myself. I got some of that last semester, but it was difficult to consistently answer questions that related to how I would incorporate literature or literary theory into my classes. (One can definitely do this, but to a different degree in writing classes than in literature classes.)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Book Purchases / Reading List

For years now I've had an Amazon Wish List. I mostly use it to remember books to check out at the library (if the library has them), or, a bit more rarely, to bookmark things I'd like but can't really afford or justify buying right away. Sometimes I get something sent to me from my wish list - Justin and Cheng sent Ed and me some really beautiful knives, which I did have on my wish list - but I can't remember the last time someone has sent me a book from my wish list, which bums me out (probably too strong a phrase) because I don't really want or need things: I want to read, and between teaching and taking classes, I rarely get to read for fun as much as I'd like. I guess people think that they should send something more expensive, but it's the books that take me happy.

For Christmas this year, though, among other things I got an Amazon gift card from my parents, so I went ahead and ordered several books which I probably won't get a chance to read until summer. Many of them were used, because I'm cheap that way; I don't generally care if they're not "new," although I do prefer the most recent editions.
Not bought using my gift card because I'm an idiot and had temporarily forgotten about it led me to outright buy these books:

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas 2013

This Christmas involved decorating a Christmas tree:


We went to a Christmas concert at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, in which the choristers from the  Madeleine Choir School performed Britten's "A Ceremony of Carols":


We saw the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Leonardo, and the Christmas lights in Temple Square.

And lo, there was much baking! First, chocolate-dipped pecan wedges, orange spice drops, and chocolate chip cookies:


Then pies were baked: lavender caramel apple pie (flowery lavender caramel is amazing) and pumpkin pie (I was able to make a few jam tarts with the leftover pie dough, too):

  

I prepared apple cinnamon steel-cut oatmeal in the crockpot for breakfast this morning; the Christmas goose is cooking away, and soon so will the sausage stuffing, oven-roasted cauliflower, and buttermilk biscuits be in the oven as well.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Student Feedback

I (finally) had access to my course evaluations this morning; one has to wait to read one's course evals (one has to have submitted all grades; a minimum number of students have to have had completed the course evals; and the period for course evals to be completed has to be course evaluation period has to be concluded), and I dislike waiting for feedback because I like to know what my students think of my class.

One class just did not like me. Well, two students in the same class didn't like me. Thankfully no curse words were used, but clearly they didn't think I had much to offer. It didn't surprise me; this came from the afternoon class at the main campus, a class I had trouble with, and this was reflected in the grades of at least half of them. I had many students who simply stopped showing up, and at least one student regularly groused at me for not giving her information she hadn't shown up in class to get (or, for that matter, could have gotten on the course website). She didn't do well because she didn't bother to familiarize herself with the assignments, and then questioned why she didn't do well. The mental connection just wasn't there.

Perhaps one does treat different section differently; it's certainly not done intentionally, and I really can't grok how I treated these particular students any differently than the students in my other classes. One or two accusations of a bad attitude from one section since January 2012 isn't something I'm worried about; I'm just curious as to what I may have said that would have been interpreted the way it was.

The problem with course evals comes down to things like, "the professor offered no feedback," which conflicts with more students who said I did provide feedback (sometimes "good feedback"). It's like a love language in that I'm trying to figure out a way of giving students feedback, or the correct amount of feedback, or presented in such a way that the student understands that it's feedback, and provided in such a way that each student can "hear" this feedback. 

I still remember one student, a few semesters ago, complaining during the last week of the semester that I didn't answer any of her questions. This student did not once raise her hand, send an e-mail, or speak to me before, during, or after class; I asked her if she had asked me a question using any of those methods that I hadn't responded to, and she just shrugged. But some students still don't see the connection between speaking up and getting their questions answered, or they don't quite know how to complain in such a way that isn't a personal attack.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Adoption Presumptions & Progress

Our home study is finally done; it's taken nearly four months (possibly longer) to complete this task, mostly because of the lag between acquiring and submitting paperwork. We were told that "most" couples were able to submit their application within about two weeks, and that "most" couples had their home study completed in about another two weeks.

There's an unspoken presumption there, though, that most people have grown up and continue to live in the same area in which they currently live; therefore, acquiring the necessary paperwork takes a relatively short amount of time. Since this applies to neither Ed nor myself, though, this took months of assembling paperwork from different states that don't share a border with Utah; it took Ed close to two months to be seen by his primary care physician for a checkup (because if one works a traditional 9-5 job, it's somewhat difficult to get an appointment for a non-emergency). Some of the paperwork also wasn't acceptable: We had been told to submit letters from our employers, verifying employment, but the automated option that SkyWest provides turned out to not be acceptable, so Ed had to get his supervisor to write a letter, which took a couple days.

Then we had to get another of our doctor's to write a letter stating he had no concerns about our ability to parent, which led to some issues: The letter had to be notarized; the doctor refused to notarize it; he didn't have the capability to type it, so he hand wrote a letter; he was given another option to notarize the letter, which would have required him to fax the letter and a copy of his ID, which he refused to do (and, actually, one is legally required to get something notarized in person). I had multiple conversations with this doctor, who cursed me out for making this request before hanging up on me. (Twice.)

Scheduling the home study itself took a couple weeks; it could only be done during the week and during the day, which meant we had to figure out when Ed could take a day off work for what we were told might be a three-hour home study. (The social worker mistook the time and showed up an hour early; fortunately, the home study only took two hours, so we were pretty much done by lunchtime.)

Finally - or almost finally - it took about six weeks for all of our references to be received; the last one was sent multiple times by local friends, but even the friends having mailed a copy of the reference twice and faxing it once didn't get it there, so she had to physically drive it there. I'm not sure they would have even acknowledged its receipt had I not been on top of it.

We also had to take three online parenting classes and submit certificates of completion. This wasn't as helpful as I had hoped - all the material covered was information I had (ironically) learned in an adolescent psychology class I had taken as an undergraduate as part of my teacher training, and the information not covered by that psych class were things I picked up as a teacher. We were taught, for example, not to punish our child, that we should discipline our child. (One example of "punishing" included a parent taking off his belt, theoretically to beat the child.) We were also forwarded information on additional materials to read, including websites that discussed the reasons for not spanking one's child.

And finally about two weeks ago - the Monday before Thanksgiving - we had an interview with the adoption coordinator and an assistant, who questioned us first separately, and then together, after which we were told that the director would have to sign off on our home study, which she would be able to do the following Monday (since she was out of the office that week), but that they didn't see any reason why our home study wouldn't be approved. At this point, we're waiting for the official approval before we can be marketed to potential birth parents.

We've been working on our adoption profile as well; a booklet has been assembled by the adoption agency with whom we're working (we're working with a different agency than the folks who did our home study), but our home study has to be approved before we can be marketed online. We sent pretty much every single picture we had of the two of us together and individually (even pictures of ourselves growing up), but we were really scraping the bottom of the barrel; we kept being asked for more pictures that we simply didn't have.

One of the most frustrating presumptions of this process - aside from the sheer invasiveness of it - is the presumption that the reason that we're adopting is because of infertility. This does seem to be a primary reason for adoption, and it's something people understand (that or being unmarried and wanting a child). However, no one knows quite what to do with you if you don't know your fertility status  because you haven't exhausted that avenue first. We don't know our fertility status; it's not something we want to pursue: Had we met and married 10 years before we did, perhaps that's something we would have explored. (It's not like we dated for 10 years before getting married; you meet "the person" when you meet him or her, after all.) IVF is an expensive process, and emotionally exhausting, from what I gather.

Adoption itself is expensive enough itself, and we figured we could either go the IVF route and spend the time and money for something that may not even be an issue, or we could choose adoption, which seemed a more sensible choice. We wouldn't have been able to financially do both. The "How do you feel about your infertility?" question that we've gotten, and which I've answered effectively as, "What infertility problem?" has been met with looks of surprise. "We don't know that there's a problem. Things haven't worked out so far in the pregnancy department, so we've decided to pursue adoption" is the answer I give, "Why not try IVF first?" "Because we're in our late 30s, there's a very low chance it would work anyway because of my age, and we didn't want to spend a lot of money and emotional energy on something that isn't likely to work. Plus, we're Catholic, and Catholic teaching is pretty clear on that." (The religious answer is one that's more easily understood, too, even though I'm not sure how much I agree with Catholic teaching on that one.)

Our home study has been officially approved, and I'm waiting for a copy that the agency had agreed to mail me (and which I should have in a few days) - we're just glad this part of the process is done.