Nov 30, 2010

Not the best of weeks

This week is fast slipping out of control. We took our house guest, a visiting professor from another uni, out and about on Sunday to show him the Montreal scene. Of course, it being Quebec, we had ice rain on Friday, followed by snowfall on Saturday, creating a lovely winter wonderland with perfect sticky snow for making snowmen (very rare here). 

But this winter wonderland was also a treacherous one. Walking the dog on Saturday, I slipped, but thankfully did not fall, on a flat surface of snow that was covering underlying ice. All was fine and I didn't hurt myself in the slightest but it was a reminder of how slick the conditions were.

We were reminded again on Sunday during our walk up "the Mountain". As we went up to view the Montreal cross, a woman who was on her way down warned us that it was slippery in places. I decided to stay at the bottom of the rise and let hubby and our guest go up for a closer look. Next thing you know, from a perfectly still standing position, hubby goes arse-over-tit as we say, and slams his head and shoulder into a rock hard pavement.

Luckily, he didn't seem to have any kind of concussion since there was no nausea or dizziness, but he was developing a very black bruise on top of his shoulder and the area was very swollen. We waited it out another day, but this morning, the bruising has extended down one side of his chest, looking rather a lot like pictures of broken collar bones we've seen on Google Images. So hubby's off to the doctor right now, probably at least a 4 hour affair by the time he sees someone and gets a probable X-ray. I'll let you know about the results, but given how restrictive his movements have been the last day or so, I'm inclined to think it's at least cracked if not broken.

At the same time, my mom had a biopsy done of an area of broken skin and it turns out to be skin cancer. She's had this before in the same area, but it was still a surprise that it came back. Apparently it's only on the surface of the skin and not deep, so she'll get a light-based treatment in January. I'm hoping it'll do the trick.

All in all, with grandpapa's funeral this week, things are not looking too bright.

Not to mention that my work laptop yesterday gave in to the "Blue Screen of Death". The faces of the IT people when I brought my laptop down to them were hardly encouraging. But they were sweet to me and told me not to stress out at all while eyeing my 6.5 month bump. At least I've got everything backed up online. I learned my lesson the last time! Still, it's a hassle. I'm working from home today just to chill and stay away from all the madness.

Seems like bad things come in 4s, not 3s.

Nov 24, 2010

Fond memories

Hubby's granddad passed away two days ago. Even though he was old and had been unwell, in-and-out of hospital for nearly two months, something like this always comes as a bit of a surprise. And it's affected hubby quite a bit.

I have fond memories of grandpapa. Whenever we passed by hubby's hometown, we always made a point of visiting him to say hi. And he was always cheerful and bright - clearly a highly intelligent man with a zest for life in spite of his age.

We will miss him. 

Nov 15, 2010

Kitties and babies

The cutest thing just happened. I was slouching on the sofa and the kitty came to sit on my lap. She's been put out these last few months because I won't let her sit on my stomach/chest while laying back on the sofa as usual. Mostly because I didn't know if in my early stages of pregnancy, it would be very good to have a 12 lb lump sitting on you. 

The kitty has learned to adjust to the situation even if her snout is slightly out of joint. She's been laying next to me, curling one paw over my body and resting her head against my side. Today, however, she decided it was safe to sit on my lap (I invited her). And she rested her head on my bump, with one paw stretching as far over it as she could.

I thought it was adorable because I could see her little face and eyes squeezed shut. The baby seemed to like it too. When she purred loudly, he started moving towards her face and then kicked in that direction. The kitty's ears pricked up as if wondering what was going on. Not in the "I'm going to catch whatever lump is moving under the blanked" kind of way, but more in a "I'm intrigued by this new thing" sort of way.

She stopped purring and opened her eyes. She did not otherwise move. But simply waited for the next kick and swiveled her ears again. Somehow, I can't help but think the two of them were communicating. Very sweet. Eventually, kitty decided she'd had enough of the thumping in her face and moved to my side. 

It'll be funny to see what happens when the baby is actually here. Started my third trimester today. Hurray.

On a more miserable note - they came to change 9 of our windows today. The workmen obviously seem to think a working day starts at 7am, because no sooner did the clocks hit that hour and they buzzed our door. As if they were waiting for it.

We stumbled out of bed, followed shortly by an argument in (my not so great) French/Quebecois about who's job it was to remove the blinds from the windows. Guess what, not mine buddy. I ain't getting up on no window sill with a 6 month preggers belly to do you any favors. He got my point eventually.

They did 7 of the nine windows and then pissed off by 12.30pm. Why they couldn't finish the job with the other 2, I have no idea. I'm kind of glad in that our bedroom remains glue-smell free until tomorrow. However, it does mean another rude 7am awakening in the morning. 

I know this doesn't sound early to most people, but you have to remember I'm an academic. I have my own hours, and they usually don't involve 7am.

Nov 8, 2010

The grading dilemma

Much I might like things to be otherwise, the grading dilemma isn't entirely over yet. This is the part of the semester I despise the most: the bit in between when students start to realize they're not doing quite as well as they'd hoped in class, and there are only a few chances to recover. Of course, 50% of their grade are in the final two aspects of the course: their group project and their final exam. So all-in-all, plenty of room for improvement.

But in the meantime, I have to manage their concerns. Some students are brave enough to come see me in my office, to ask how they could have improved their work. I don't mind these meetings -- at least they aren't coming to moan about nothing, and showing initiative of wanting to improve. Usually, these students are open to feedback and they suddenly see (when I point it out to them) how their performance doesn't match up to the standards of the assignment.

Then there are those students who've for some reason been entirely asleep in the first two thirds of class only to wake up to the fact that they're close to failing the course. Can I see them, most urgently? Of course. Not that it will help much. I'll tell them they need to do X, Y and Z to achieve a more reasonable grade. But they'll do none of it. By my experience, students who perform poorly are rarely able to recover. They just panic instead.

Other students come in for no other reason than to weasel their way into a higher grade. These students enter the room full of gung-ho approaches, with a list in their head of their arguments, with an agenda to push while sitting in my office. These students are incapable of absorbing any response I have. Typically, they don't like to hear that their grade won't be changed. They keep hammering on about the same point, as if saying 6 times will make me more likely to change my mind, rather than more likely to want to strangle them. 

Still, I offer these misguided hopefuls my time. I even offer them more personalized feedback on their assignments, i.e. if they really cared about improving their performance, they'd take constructive criticism. Unfortunately, most of these students tend to be ok or even good students. Maybe they got a B+ on the assignment and for whatever reason they need an A. 

One such student was in my office today. His GPA is 3.99, he explained, and his boss will give him a $7,000 bonus if he gets a 4.0. I understand your motives, I told him, but it doesn't change your work. I have a fair and consistent system of grading everyone. I can't just randomly go around changing people's grades. It wouldn't be fair.

Oh, but he had many arguments. He worked 40 hours on this assignment. He has As in all his other classes. He repeats his high GPA. (Am I supposed to be impressed by all this? I work hard too and have an award winning dissertation, but that doesn't mean my papers get published.) 

Seeing that I'm going to give him very little room to manipulate me about the mid-term assignment, he eventually he turns to his other grades. What about his participation score? Why is it "just" an A and not an A+. (What's wrong with an A? It's a perfect score ...). No but his friend got an A+. Yes, because your friend got a higher score than you; and again, I have to assign grades fairly.

Then he turned to the quiz. He got a B on that. Not much room for argument there, since it's multiple choice. I show him his quiz, but he barely glances at. He tries to argue one answer which is CLEARLY the wrong answer and I point that out. He drops the topic quickly (and wisely). The quiz score, after all, shows me that perhaps his understanding of the conceptual frameworks is less perfect than he thinks, and it might explain why his assignment isn't A work. 

Running out of options, he launches into an argument with me about using letter grades (i.e. the GPA system) to calculate the final grade, rather than the actual percentage (i.e. like they get on the quiz). How exactly am I supposed to mix the two methods, pray tell me? More relevantly, I clearly state in the syllabus AND in the class folder online that I will use the letter grade method to determine the final grade. So this is not news.

Oh, but it's not fair.

I came THIS close to quoting my father: "Life isn't fair. Deal with it." (Dare I point out the privileges of living in a Western country as an upper middle-classer, compared to the poor buggers in Bangladesh who don't even learn how to read ... I would dare but I fear it would draw out the stupidity of the conversation even longer). 


I wonder if he realizes that by pissing me off both in the classroom and in my office by wasting an otherwise perfectly good and usable hour, that I'm that much less likely to give him the benefit of the doubt should he have a borderline mark at the end of the day ...??

Oh, and please, someone slap his boss for me.

Nov 3, 2010

A, B, C.

I've just come out of the weirdest class ever - virtually got lynched by all my students about the grades they got for their mid-term assignments. For some bizarre reason, they all seem to think they deserve an A.

And they're all highly emotional about the fact that they didn't. 

I'm trying to figure it out in my brain. I'm not upset, but of course it's something that sits with me. There are a number of possibilities:

1. Students are used to getting As from other classes/teachers, because there has been massive grade inflation over the past 5 years. In other words, instead of the usual 15% or so of class getting an A, some 30-40% of people are getting A's ... even if they don't deserve it. This makes me want to strangle the other instructors who give these things away because they don't want to "argue" with students about why they don't deserve them.

2. This is generation Me: highly direct, high on self-esteem, high sense of entitlement, doesn't respond well to critique, "it's not my fault", and "why bother working hard" generation. Blame the Baby-Boomers, apparently, for these characteristics who raised these kids. This makes for a highly-emotion, very entitled debate in the classroom, let me tell you, when I give feedback on what was expected in the assignment (versus what they actually delivered). Clearly, they're not afraid to be direct and confront me, even coming out with bold statements such as "I want to negotiate my grade" ... as if this is something to be negotiated. Whatever happened to actually producing the work in order to "get the grade"?

3. I have a new grader. Someone who marks the papers. Perhaps he did a shitty job. The thing is, I actually read through about 25% of the work and agreed with his assessments, barring a few minor differences. In general, I tend to be tougher on the work than my graders are. But even my grader said: "Maybe my expectations are too high, but most of the work seems to be in the B or C grade range". That was before we added up all the points. People should feel lucky that they got an A at all.

All I can say is that the next week is going to be a busy one with lots of students visiting me in my office. To me, that's largely a huge waste of time. But I feel a twisted sense of responsibility towards the students in which I (a) don't crush their efforts entirely by at least giving them a platform to vent and (b) explain with painstaking evidence why their work is C work. 

What else can I do? (Ideas welcome ...)

I probably need about 2 hours to calm down after today's evening class before I can even think about sleeping. And I will try not to get personally emotional about stuff (I'm not Generation Me), about all the damned hard work I've been putting into the classes, the grading, the group projects, face-to-face meetings -- none of which seems to be appreciated. 

Well, apart from one student who came forward after class and said: "I'm glad that you don't just hand out A's to everyone. That makes me feel like I really deserved mine."

Dang, girl, do you think you could have said that aloud to the whole class? But I guess I can't ask a student to put themselves in the firing line on my behalf. Fair is fair: I am the one who handed out the grades.

(Update at 1.30am: the outcome of all of this, of course, is that I can't sleep. Even though I'm exhausted! Idiotic.)