Every semester in an academic calendar has its own rhythms. Fall starts with energy and excitement created by a lengthier summer hiatus before usually turning into a race to Thanksgiving and a coda that is the final few weeks. Summer is both more frenetic thanks for the shorter terms and more laid back because everyone is working on a smaller number of courses at a time. Spring, by contrast, starts with everyone still not quite recovered from the fall, but is also divided more neatly into two separate arcs, one leading up to the spring break, and one from there to the end of the semester.
I like the shorter arcs of the spring semester in theory. But I have also been reminded again this week, the penultimate before break, that so much of exhaustion, stress, and burnout are bigger systemic problems, which has prompted me to dramatically overhaul the schedule for one of my classes in particular in order to align my expectations, what my students can handle, and the course outcomes. Fortunately, I overbuilt the latter, so I can do almost anything in the back half of the course and still meet every objective.
At the same time, though, I don’t relish the thought of adding this to my to-do list. While I don’t have an obscene number of students this semester (despite two of my classes being mildly over-enrolled), I am already teaching three new courses, with the one that I am now retrofitting mid-flight being the one I had expected to be able to leave on autopilot while I tended to the others. Naturally.
At the same time, I discovered just how many groups I’m involved in decided that we need to squeeze whatever we’re doing in before break, leading to quite a crunch on my time.
Reader, I am tired.
I’ll make it through this week and through the rest of the semester after that, but the feeling of exhaustion that swept over me when I resolved to make these changes reminded me of this piece about John Fetterman, depression, and the requirement for politicians to always be “on.” Despite the reputation that professors are callous, impatient, and disinterested in engaging with students, or perhaps because of it, I saw a parallel in always being on. I might be a dozen anxieties in a trench coat making things up as I go along (an exaggeration on all fronts, but with a hint of truth), but I am supposed to be approachable and welcoming to students, timely in my feedback on student work, prepared with my class material, and present in my classes (though I had a…memorable…professor in undergrad who was frequently absent with no notification), on top of being an expert in the content and a responsible colleague to my coworkers.
This week’s varia:
- Hannah Čulík-Baird returns to blogging with a post that consists of two fragments, one on fragments as nodes of interconnection both horizontally and vertically and about academic voice. Full disclosure: I get a shout-out in the post as an inspiration for the return based on intermittent, ongoing conversations Hannah and I have had about academic writing and academic voice across multiple social media platforms.
- Charles Roberts has a blog post pointing out that the issues of student engagement are the consequence of larger structural factors that professors are now being asked to solve without the training or support to do so. He has a note about how dispiriting it is to hear an accreditor devalue the teaching that professors do, which, yes. as I keep saying about ChatGPT, this sort of language is toxic and sets establishes dangerous misunderstandings that I think set students up to fail in the long run.
- The International Baccalaureate program in the UK is going to allow students to use AI programs if they cite e.g. ChatGPT as a source. This is an unbelievably dumb policy that completely misunderstands what ChatGPT is. The director claims that they created the policy because he thinks it is more valuable for students to learn to critique essays that to learn to do it themselves, which I find is an absurd premise given that doing one at least to a certain level is required to do the other. I’m dreading how decisions like this are going to create headaches for me down the road.
- Jonathan Wilson writes about the challenges of creating a one-size-fits-all (students and teachers) model for flexible deadlines. I also share his concern about the frequency of students using avoidance as the primary coping strategy for students in distress. In addition to avoidance leading to more avoidance, I often find that it causes work to pile up to the point that it is unmanageable and students will further avoid me because they’re convinced that they have to turn all back work in at once in order to participate in the class and earn my respect—no matter how many times I tell them otherwise and try to help create manageable timelines for getting their missing work in.
- Given a new round of commentary about campus cancel culture, I saw circulating a Teen Vogue op-ed from 2021 that I missed at the time arguing that colleges and universities are conservative institutions—for many reasons, not the least of which is that the existing fiscal structure of the universities often demands a conservative approach to budgeting and, the larger the endowment, the more the entity functions like a hedge-fund with a vestigial educational institution attached. As a complete tangent, my favorite part of this article is not the content, but the form. This opening paragraph is exactly what I want to see in an introduction. It has a hook, context, and concludes with a clear, coherent thesis that organizes the rest of the piece. A+.
- From the Vermont Digger: the girl’s basketball team from Mid Vermont Christian School forfeited their game in the state D4 basketball tournament rather than play against Long Trail because the latter team had a trans player. The school also applied to the state to be able to receive public tuition money while being exempted from anti-discrimination regulations. This is an abominable position, but one that is all too common these days. To receive public money, you should have to be in compliance with state rules on issues of discrimination.
- The Montana state legislature is debating a bill that would ban anyone who received a COVID vaccine from giving blood. Opponents of this bill say that it will lead to an 80% drop in blood donations, thus creating a new public health crisis.
- A Republican lawmaker in Florida introduced a bill requiring that any blogger or other writer who does stories about the Governor or other executive officials register with the state or face a fine. Just the latest proposal to curtail civil liberties in the name of strangling political opposition coming out of that state.
- A white-supremacist Lutheran who believes that Hitler went to heaven and views the world in Manichean terms where either you believe in White supremacy and Fascism or you believe in Marxism is trying to gain control of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. This synod is already an extremely conservative denomination, but he wants to turn it into an alt-right organization. I hate it here.
- Bari Weiss “reported” last month about a whistleblower at a clinic in St. Louis that offers care to transgender teens, ginning up an enormous amount of outrage and potential political action against the clinic. Parents of the patients, the patients themselves, and the clinic are speaking out against the allegations, as reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. After the previous four links, adding this one runs the risk of seeming like I’m beating a dead horse, but…
- Two trains collided in northern Thessaly (Greece), killing more than 40 people. This is an awful tragedy and critics are pointing out that like the aging infrastructure that caused the crash in East Palestine, Ohio, the train network in Greece is in need of overhaul, even if some of the blame here falls on human error.
- Pizza acrobatics are a sport. There are competitions, and the Washington Post profiled the 13-time world champion, Tony Gemignani. I’d personally rather eat the pizza.
Album of the week: The Barefoot Movement, “Pressing Onward” (2021)
Currently Reading: Dan Saladino, Eating to Extinction; Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children; Nikolaus Leo Overtoom, Reign of Arrows