Monday, April 30, 2007

Teaching and Guilt

A student just turned in his paper with the wrong sized spacing. He apologized for this, but I know he already cut his paper from 12 to 6 pages to conform to the limits of the assignment.

I looked at him and found myself. This student has been one of the most conscientious, thoughtful, and intelligent students I've had all semester. It made me cringe to hear him apologize several times.

And I do it to. My fiancee and I went away for the weekend, and I kept apologizing for the lack of "perfection." "I'm sorry that the bed and breakfast isn't better," "I'm sorry that we didn't go on this hike, but the other one," "I'm sorry for being sorry."

It's insanity. Slowly going insane on imagined guilt that shouldn't be. It's an unfortunate reality that I'm much more forgiving with others than myself. There was a part of me that wanted to give my student a hug (the maternal part), but I rarely want to give myself a hug in a similar situation.

Ah - reflections are sometimes so reflective!

Friday, April 20, 2007

School Shootings, R.E.M., and Reflections

This morning I received an email from one of my "A" students. She explained to me in her email that her mother called her this morning at 7:30 to ask her not to attend her classes today. My student asked for my understanding in this matter, and I have no problem granting her (or her mother) my understanding.

This week has, to put it bluntly, sucked. Graduate school is typically challenging, tiring, etc..., but I think that being in academia has especially attuned me (us) to the tragedy at Virginia Tech on Monday.

On Wednesday, I decided to devote some time to discussing the incident with my students, and making sure they knew where to go if somebody were threatening themselves or somebody else. And I got mixed reactions. Some of my students welcomed the information, wanting to know what to do to potentially stop these incidents from happening in the future. Other students had a completely opposite reaction. "It's a big world," they said, "We can't possibly report every threatening incident, and we personally can't do much to stop a crazy person."

I agree with this second group of students, up to a point. But then the sociologist steps in. As I told my students, the "Bystander Effect" is quite strong. I also told them that I hoped they would take the time to report strange behavior from those they knew.

In addition to this, I found myself agreeing with yet another group of students in my class who said that blaming the victim cannot be the entire answer, that we as a society have a responsibility to our fellows.

Sociology gives us the tools to know that estrangement causes alienation and anomie, conditions which are much more likely to lead to destructive behavior (either towards self or others). Although it's easier to shrug it off, I firmly believe that we do have a responsibility towards each other. Yes, the shooter was mentally unstable, but his words reveal that he felt completely disonnected from other people.

I was lucky to go to college mostly pre-Columbine (the Columbine shootings took place at the end of my junior year of college). My students aren't so lucky. At least one is missing my class because of the fear that the violence on Monday has caused. That makes me angry (much as my colleague's comment the other day that we should now be "extra nice" to our students so they don't get angry and shoot us, including giving good grades to all!!!), but it also makes me very, very sad.

It's not enough to say that the problem is "too big." However, to get beyond that, we have to accept responsibility for helping to sustain a safe society for all of us (even, or perhaps especially, the mentally unstable among us).

I'm listening to R.E.M.'s "Automatic for the People" this morning. Not only does this album remind me of college, but quite a few songs remind me that there are more connections between us than divisions. In particular, "Everybody Hurts" does this. We're all alone there in our own particular cars, trying to get where we're going (for very real sociological reasons - think organic solidarity), but we don't have to be.

Let's use our knowledge for power.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


I'm not exactly sure when the exhaustion ends. There are so many responsibilities right now. I need to:

1) find some way to collect my dissertation data (I'm almost there with this one, but the last day of the public schools is 5/24, so I'm down to the wire)
2) publish something?
3) be a good teacher, when I'm frustrated at half my class for putting in sub par work while expecting an "A" or a "B" (incidentally, this makes me want to scream sometimes)
4) plan a wedding with my mother while coping with family issues
5) figure out what said "family issues" are (this is not a quick process)
6) try to spend some quality time with the fiancee (which is getting harder and harder to do as the stress mounts up)
7) continue the ongoing saga of "Cat/Dog Summit," in which we get the animals together for a nice sit down (in actuality, this is when the dog runs around like a spaz, and the cats cower on my lap for awhile, while getting intermittently "kissed" by the dog; however, they all have come a long way on this (i.e., they can all lie peacefully next to eachother for 15-30 minutes, the cats just can't really move without the dog spazing again))
8) exercise?
9) keep the headaches under control?
10) find time to breathe? (at least I stick to my yoga routine every morning)

I'm tired. Everything will undoubtedly look better in the morning. Hopefully...
Otherwise, I might need to change my name from Practicing Idealist to Practicing "Something Else."

Friday, April 6, 2007

Quote of the Day

The stack is almost gone. I just wanted to share the latest "gem" that has been placed before my eyes (if you think the last part of this sentence is badly written, I'm absorbing it from my students' papers).

Anyway, here it is (with no editing on my part)!
"My values are similar to my parent's values andpeople with the same beliefs as me. I think my values are similar because we all believe in the same thing."
You know, I have to agree with him. My parents' values are similar to mine, too...because we all believe in the same thing.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Constant Catch-Up

The stack is still here, though slightly smaller.

There's now a stack of essays exams next to the stack of papers.

My mom was here over the weekend. And as much as I love her, when she left yesterday I only had the energy to stare blankly at an annoying little logic game on my computer screen and decompress.

I'm coming out of the fog today. Time to start decreasing the height of the stack. Maybe by tomorrow afternoon I'll be a bit more on top of things. Maybe...