Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Teachers Are the New Essential Workers

 Me to Student #1: Um, tell your roommate that everyone can see him right now, or at least tell him to put on a shirt. And pants. 

Student's roommate: Nah, it's cool! I'm wearing boxers. Hellooo, ladies. (Several female students in my class giggle.)

Student #1: I'm turning off my webcam now.

Student #2: I can't come to class today. My roommate just got infected with the virus and now I have it too.

Student #3: I can't turn in my paper tomorrow. I just tested positive for the virus. I don't know what happened. I mean, I did go to a party last weekend, but there were only, like, thirty people there.

Student #4: I don't have the virus, but this whole pandemic has made me really stressed out. I can't come to the live class sessions on Zoom anymore, but can you just email me everything I missed? 

Me: Excuse me for a moment. (Turns off webcam, mutes microphone, screams into pillow, and then turns everything back on.) No.

Before the fall semester started, I sent my syllabi for the classes I was teaching to my bosses. It was the same syllabi that I'd used last year, and they'd approved it. But since I am teaching my classes on Zoom this semester, my syllabi came back with many "suggestions" (translation: change this or we will point at you during the next faculty meeting on Zoom and yell, "SHAME"). They said that I shouldn't have every class be a live class; they told all the faculty that at least one class a week should be "asynchronous", meaning instead of teaching it on Zoom, we should provide recordings of ourselves teaching, post notes online, assign short writing assignments or group activities, etc.

On the one hand, I understand why they wanted us to make these changes. But when I revised my syllabus, I looked at my syllabus and realized that I was basically teaching THEIR class, not mine. One thing I always liked about college teaching was that although all the faculty had basic requirements to meet, such as assigning a certain number of pages or revisions for the students to write, teaching them certain skills, and so forth, it was up to us to decide what to include in our classes and how to teach them. But this time, it was all up to my bosses, and I couldn't help resenting that.

Also, the problem with all that asynchronous content is that it creates a lot more work for me to do and grade. I've been spending so much time at my computer that sometimes I have to take a break and lie down on my bed for a few minutes to rest my eyes. 

At the college where I teach, the students are allowed to live on campus (although some of them chose to remain at home and attend classes online), but most of their classes are online. They get tested regularly and the college keeps a close watch on their movements. The campus police has been patrolling the dorms to make sure they don't have parties, but trying to prevent undergrads from partying is like trying to prevent Donald Trump from Tweeting (and can I just say, "HALLELUJAH!" that he was not reelected! I was so nervous while I was watching for results of the election. It was like watching the end of a horror movie, where you're on the edge of your seat wondering if the villain will win and destroy everyone.).

At a faculty meeting on Zoom before classes started, one of my bosses said, "We need to be more lenient with the students this semester. They've been going through a hard time, so they should not be penalized as much for late work or absences."

The problem is that when the students turn in their work late, I end up staying up late to grade all the late work that are turned in several days after I finish grading all the other assignments. When students don't show up for the live sessions (and it's not always due to the virus because a lot of them will email me and say they overslept or that they "forgot" what time the class started), they bombard my inbox with emails or request extra appointments outside of the regular office hours that I hold on Zoom. And since they know I'm working from home, they expect me to be available to talk to them online whenever they need help.

Student #5: Do you have any office hours on Saturday? 

Me: I don't hold office hours on Saturday. 

Student #5: Oh. How about Sunday then? 

Me: No. 

Student: Well, do you have any openings for tonight, like at 11 P.M.? 

Me: Excuse me for a minute. (Turns off camera, mutes microphone, and takes an aspirin. Seriously considers giving up my stance as a teetotaler because I could really use a drink right now. Turns camera back on.) No. 

It's also been harder to track down the students who don't turn in their work at all. When I taught on campus, I could talk to them after class. But when they don't turn in their work, I can try to send them a private DM asking them to stay after the Zoom session ends so I can talk to them, or I can email them. What usually happens is that they ignore my emails and log out before I can talk to them. My boss conceded that if these students try to dump all their work on me at the end of the semester, I can at least say no to that.

My bosses also told me not to make the students turn on their webcams, which means that during many of the live sessions, I'm often the only one with a webcam turned on and I'm literally speaking to a bunch of black boxes with students' names on them. It's disheartening, to say the least. It's also hard to tell if the students are actually paying attention or if they're just surfing the Internet or napping during my class. Based on the emails I've gotten where they repeatedly ask questions about things I already covered during my lectures, I'd say it's the latter a lot of the time.

I understand that the students are going through a difficult time. This is not the college experience they signed up for. And that's why I've set aside extra office hours (but NOT on weekends or at night) and given out many extensions to help them. 

But teachers are going through a hard time too, and we don't get extensions or extra accommodations. The government has deemed us "essential workers" now, so we're expected to basically suck it up and do our jobs. I might be required to teach on campus again in the near future, and I'm afraid to do that unless my department is willing to give me the money to buy a Hazmat suit. It's bad enough that the students used to give me the flu every year, partly because some of them would accidentally sneeze on their papers and then hand it to me. (That's one of the reasons that I now require them to submit their work online instead.)

I know it could be worse. My college professor friends in Small Town said that they have to teach on Zoom and in person at the same time, meaning they teach on campus but have to stay within sight of their webcams so that other students can attend class online. They also have to wear masks the whole time. 

And there are a few perks to working from home. I don't have to wear the mask. I can wear jeans and forgo uncomfortable dress shoes when I'm teaching because my students can only see me from the waist up when I'm sitting in front of the computer. 

And I am grateful to still have my college teaching job and my website job, especially since so many people have lost theirs. But sometimes, I find myself reverting back to the full-fledged workaholic that I used to be, where I do little else but work, eat, sleep, and scream into my pillow. I find myself feeling easily irritated more often now, and I've been stress eating again (I just can't say no to you, doughnuts.). That's also why I haven't been blogging; I literally have not had time.

I know that this is my job, and I really do have to suck it up, at least for now. And I am willing to help the students, and I have. But I can't help wishing that teachers could get more than just a "We appreciate teachers" Tweet, or at least that more people (like our bosses, for example) would acknowledge that by forcing us to accommodate the students in practically every way, we're being forced to work so many more hours with no accommodations of our own.

Sorry. I have to order some new pillows. I may or may not have ripped my old one to shreds.

What about you? Are you an essential worker? Even if you're not an essential worker, what has it been like for you at work now that things have been reopening? 

Monday, August 31, 2020

My Life Is Not a Lifetime Movie

A few years ago, when I was still teaching at a college in Small Town, one of my students asked me out. I was coming out of my office on campus and was on my way to the library, when one of my students approached me. "Hey, Professor, could I ask you something?" he asked. 

"Is it about the grades?" I asked. "I told everyone that I'll post the grades online later this month." 

"Uh no, actually, my friends are having a party, and I was wondering if you'd like to go with me." 

Startled, I said, "No, I can't do that. Sorry, but I have to go." And then I turned and hurried off to the library, moving so rapidly that I might have left a trail of dust behind me.

This happened on the last day of the semester, so I didn't see the student again after that. That's probably why he waited until then to ask. 

If this were a Lifetime movie, I would have said yes, and then, in typical Lifetime movie fashion, either he would have turned out to be a menacing stalker, or I would have.

But my life is not a Lifetime movie. Was I tempted to say yes? NO, not even a little bit. I don't view the guys in my class as people I could date. I just think of them as students, who, along with my female students, are the reason that my hair is turning white. (I have to get it dyed every few months.)

Even though I instantly knew that I had no interest in dating the student who asked me out (or ANY of the students at the colleges that have employed me, for that matter), I tried to picture myself at the college party he invited me to. What if some of my other students were there? What would I even say to them? "Oh, yes, I'm here with your classmate. We're dating now. And by the way, let me know if you have any questions about your final grades. Okay, everybody DRINK!"

There have been other instances. RateYourProfessors.com used to have a chili pepper rating, where students could "award" their professors with a chili pepper if they thought the professors were hot. I was one of the faculty who was rated in that way. The chili pepper rating was eventually removed after a female professor (not me) complained that it was offensive and degrading. 

Another student at one of the other colleges where I used to teach had a crush on me. He never asked me out, but I could tell because he often lingered after class. He'd say things like, "Do you want me to erase the chalkboard for you, Professor? Do you need any other help with anything?" I always said no, but one time, I turned around after packing up my bag and he was literally right there behind me, which freaked me out. He said, "I just wanted to tell you that you did a really good job teaching today." 

I said, "Um, thanks, gotta go." And then I took off, leaving a trail of dust behind me.

I did tell my program director about the student who made me uncomfortable, but there wasn't anything the director could do at that point because technically, nothing he had done was against the rules, even though it was weird and seriously creeped me out. But the director did tell me to let her know if the student tried to go any further than that.

And I've never been inappropriate with any of my students. I never flirted with them or anything like that, so I don't know why they thought it was okay to make advances towards me, because it WASN'T. I thought maybe it was partly because I am a woman; it's often harder for women in academia to get respect from students than it is from men. For example, now that I have my doctorate, I use the title of "Doctor" in class. But every year, there are always a few students who disregard the title I earned and call me Miss ____, and I correct them every time. Almost every time, the students who disregard my title are guys. My male colleagues have not reported having this problem, but several of my female colleagues have.

Most colleges, including the one I currently work for, have strict rules against faculty dating students. A lot of colleges don't allow faculty to date students at all, at least not until after the students graduate. Others do allow it, but only if the student is not currently enrolled in the professor's class. 

Some schools won't even allow graduate students who work as teaching assistants to date the undergrads, even though technically, the T.A.s are still students. They say that it's a conflict of interest. For example, what if you were dating someone who is doing poorly in your class? Would you be able to remain objective and still give that student the grade he or she earned? 

Despite the strict rules that prohibit faculty from dating students, that obviously hasn't stopped some professors at colleges everywhere from dating them anyway, and I personally know a few of the ones who have. Most of them are middle-aged men pursuing students young enough to be their granddaughters. They typically get away with it because they either keep it a secret, or they are A-list scholars who bring in tons of money and recognition to their departments, so they get away with a lot of stuff that the rest of us academic plebeians would get fired for.

But I also know a female professor in Small Town who was several years younger than me who dated one of her students; she said that they didn't start dating until he was no longer in her class, but he was still enrolled in the college as a senior. They eventually broke up after a few months, and she started dating someone (not a student) who was significantly older than her.

Those young people often think that the professors are so smart, sensitive and romantic because they can do things like quote Shakespeare and poetry, but hello, all English professors can do that. It's like Puck said in A Midsummer Night's Dream: "Lord, what fools these mortals be."

Some people might argue that as long as the student is of a legal age to consent, then both the student and the professor are consenting adults. Others might say that there are professors and students who ended up getting married after the students graduated, and the relationships lasted. And ultimately, it's true that it's their choice whether or not to date, not mine.

But in my opinion, professors who date students while the latter is still enrolled at the college, even if the students are no longer in the professors' classes, are taking a huge risk. I heard about a professor (not in College Town) who hooked up with one of his students, and then he moved on to another student. The first student reported him to the university, and he was fired. (The playwright William Congreve wrote, "Heav'n has no rage, like love to hatred turn'd, nor hell a fury, like a woman scorn'd.") He successfully sued his department and was reinstated in his job, but even the judge admonished him for his behavior. 

As a workaholic who has sacrificed almost everything else in my life that mattered for my work, I can't imagine risking everything I've worked for and everything I'm still working for. I may never get tenure, but there are still a lot of things that I want to do. At the very least, I want my contract to be renewed at the college I am currently teaching at, and a relationship with a student might negatively affect my chances of renewal. There are also opportunities for promotion at this school, or if I eventually have enough publications and awards, I could possibly move on to a more prestigious school in the future. I'm also interested in teaching at a military college (they occasionally hire civilians to teach the core subjects like English, math, and science) because the pay and benefits are typically better than at civilian schools. I want to publish scholarly books that are related to the research I did for my dissertation and master's thesis. I want to do so many things that would be very difficult (or in some cases, impossible) to do if I were to do just one thing, which is date a student.

One's professional reputation is very important in any workplace, but it's especially important in academia where almost any time a full-time college teaching job becomes available, even if it's not on the tenure track, there are literally hundreds of people applying for it. I want to have a reputation where I'm known for being a good scholar, teacher, and writer. I don't want to be known as the professor who hooks up with her students, which is why I have never done it and will never do it.

There's also the fact that I am a lot older than my students. Many people have told me that I look young for my age, but that doesn't change the fact that at 39, I am an entire drinking age older than most of my students, which makes ME want to drink. That's why even if those guys weren't my students, I still wouldn't want to date any of them. Legally, they may be adults, but in every other sense of the word, most of them still have a lot of growing up to do. I don't mean that as an insult. I still had a lot of growing up to do when I was that age. When I was eighteen, I scheduled my college classes around episodes of All My Children, and I wanted to marry Ricky Martin (insert facepalm here).

When I first started teaching, I was still in my twenties, and several of my students were older than me. One of them invited me to go out for drinks, but I said no back then, too. If one of my older students were to ask me out today, I would still say no. 

The men I know who date younger women claim that they want women who can have kids more easily than middle-aged women can. That may be true, but I think they also want women whose bodies have not yet been affected by giving birth. 

I'm not totally opposed to May-December relationships. I think there are some instances where it can work, and it can lead to lasting, loving connections. But I think that when one person is a student and the other person is a teacher, it blurs the lines that are supposed to be in place between the faculty and the students. The teacher is in a position of authority, and in my opinion, he or she should remain professional and adhere to ethical standards.

What about you? What do you think of teachers who date their students? What is your opinion of May-December relationships?

Friday, August 21, 2020

What I Learned from Matthew Hussey

Last year, I found out that Matthew Hussey, a well-known relationship and lifestyle coach, was visiting major cities across the U.S. and giving women advice about dating. He and his brother Stephen wrote a book called How to Get the Guy.

The nearest major city where Matthew was giving a talk was an hours-long train ride away from College Town, but I made the trip anyway because I was still hurting after seeing the Model profess his love for his girlfriend on social media just a few days after he hooked up with me last summer.

Tickets to Matthew's talk only cost about thirty dollars, but he also promoted a biannual, week-long retreat that he and his team host in Florida where they provide in-depth coaching. I couldn't afford the retreat, but I was seriously tempted to dip into my savings to sign up for it because by the end of his talk, I thought, Wow, this guy really knows what he's talking about. I kind of want to give him all my money now.

My reaction to him was similar to the initial reaction that I imagine cult members may have to their "leader". Matthew Hussey is handsome and charismatic and knows exactly what to say to get people to agree with him. Except unlike cult leaders, Matthew is not trying to scam or hurt anyone; he genuinely wants to help people make genuine, loving connections. He provides an insightful, frank perspective on the dating life.

Here is an example of what he teaches women about unrequited love:

At the end of his talk, he did a Q&A where he answered questions from a few people that he picked from the audience. I was one of the people he chose. I briefly described what happened with the Model, and then I asked, "How do I let go of all this anger and pain over what he did? How do I resist the desire to publicly expose him for what he did? How do I let go of my feelings for him?"

Matthew answered, "You're hurting right now, but you deserve better. Why are you letting him star in the story of your life, when it's ultimately your story and he's really just a chapter in it?"

He also said, "The most important thing a man can give a woman is security, the feeling that he will always be there for her. Good men don't leave women feeling insecure, uncertain, and anxious all the time." 

Although being with the Model was thrilling and fun, I was in a constant state of anxiety and uncertainty because I was never sure when or if I would see him again. He snapped his fingers, and I came running.

I wish I could say that I took Matthew's advice and didn't contact the Model ever again. But as I admitted in a recent post, I did contact the Model again, several months later (last spring), and he texted back. For about three months, we texted back and forth several days a week, sometimes all day long. I always felt a rush every time I received a notification on my phone and saw that it was a message from him. 

Although he had moved out West two years ago, he was now living in a small Midwestern town. He said that the next time he was in College Town, he would come and see me. But his Instagram posts (he unblocked me once we started talking again) showed that he kept going to the city where the woman he claimed was no longer his girlfriend lived, and that city was much farther away from where he lived than College Town was. He was going out of his way to be with her.  His posts also showed a few pictures of himself in College Town. When I asked him to stop by and see me, he always had an excuse for why he couldn't. That was when I finally stopped texting him.

When the gyms closed down because of the pandemic, I took long walks around a local park instead. I took my iPod and listened to the Love Life with Matthew Hussey podcast that was run by Matthew and Stephen. One of the episodes was called "Why Men 'Love Bomb' and What You Can Do about It". "Love bombing" means that the guy lavishes a woman with a lot of attention for a while, pulls a disappearing act, and will then pop up again weeks or months later. 

Matthew said, "Men do this because they're insecure and need the validation." They get validation from knowing that the women are still interested. This describes the Model to a T. For more than two years, he love bombed me again and again, and I let him get away with it because I thought that the worst thing was a life without him. But I finally realized that the worst thing is a life where I continue to let him push me around while I cling to the vain hope that eventually he will feel as strongly about me as I do about him. 

Recently, he texted me out of the blue, after months of no contact. He claimed that he'd been busy with his work, but I didn't feel that same thrill when I heard from him. Instead, I felt irritated and angry that he thought it was okay to do this.

I responded, "Well, I figured you hadn't texted or come to see me because you were back with your girlfriend."

When we started texting each other again last spring, I avoided mentioning her because I was afraid that he would tell me what I already knew: that she was back in his life. As long as I avoided it, I could cling to this hopeless fantasy that I would get to be with him again. I told myself that since he had his own place in a town far away from where she lived, then that meant that what he told me last summer about how they were no longer dating was true. Also, I was afraid before that if I mentioned her, he would get mad at me and ghost me again. I was angry at him for lying to me, but I had been lying to him too. I'd pretended to be okay with our "casual situationship" this whole time, even though I really wanted more. But at that point, I was done pretending.

He didn't admit the truth at first. He said, "I haven't come to College Town because I rarely go there in the first place." He accused me of overreacting and over-analyzing the situation.

He finally admitted that he and his girlfriend were in an open relationship for years and were now very "close". I wanted to ask him, Why didn't you just SAY that before? I once went on a date with a guy who was also in an open relationship, although he specifically stated in his dating profile that he was polyamorous.

But before I could ask, the Model stated that who he dated was his business, and who I dated was my business. "I don't want drama," he said. 

I told him, "I don't want drama either, which is why I want you to promise that you won't follow through on your threats." 

He said he only said that because I threatened him. But I didn't. Two years ago, after I found out that he took her to Mexico for her birthday two weeks after he spent the night with me (I didn't know about her back then, and I only found out after I got suspicious and started digging around on social media), I told him how much he hurt me because I was still hurting. The Model responded not with an apology but with threats. The Hussey brothers said on their podcast that toxic people see any kind of criticism or questions about their behavior as threatening, and they respond with personal attacks. 

The Model said that he didn't want to talk about it anymore, and then he changed the subject. He continued texting me after that, but I kept thinking, Even after all this time, he still thinks he didn't do anything wrong. He will never change. And whether they're "close friends" or still together, it doesn't change the fact that he treats her better than he ever treated me.

On the one hand, we were never exclusive. But it's one thing if he's hooking up with random women that he doesn't care about. When he's in a loving relationship with someone that he treats like a queen, and then treats me like crap while also stringing me along with just enough "affection" to keep me around, it's something else altogether. She can tolerate his on-again, off-again behavior because he treats her much better, and by that I mean he's treated her to not one but ten lavish vacations in two years, based on what I've seen from her Instagram page. But unlike her, I never cared about his money. I just wanted to be with him. But like I said in my previous post, I just can't do this anymore. 

Do I still have feelings for the Model? Yes. Will it be hard for me to say no to him if he moves back to College Town (he said he might move back here soon) and says he wants to see me again? Yes. But do I want to be free of his control, and do I fantasize about trapping him and his hard-partying, gold-digging girlfriend in a haunted castle with all of the worst villains from Game of Thrones? Also yes.

I didn't block him because if I do, I might run into him in College Town and he'll confront me to ask why. Instead I changed his name in my phone to "DON'T TEXT HIM BACK". Anyone who's been reading this blog since I met him will know that my posts about him over the past three years could basically be summed up like this: "I'm head over heels for him!" to "He left, and now I'm sad," to "I'm moving on with my life, and I'm over him," to "Now he's back, and I'm so happy" to "OK, this time, I'm TOTALLY over him." 

But Matthew and Stephen Hussey have definitely helped me realize that sometimes, it's not just about finding the right guy. It's about letting go of the wrong one. 


Friday, July 3, 2020

What I've Been Doing During My Summer Vacation, Or, Why I Named Squirrels and Argued with a Goose

Before the pandemic gripped the world, I was already counting the weeks to summer.  Since I have a full-time college teaching job and a part-time job for a website, I work seven days a week with no time off for months at a time during the school year. One of the perks of being a teacher is that you get summers off, although I still technically work at my website job and do scholarly research during the summer.

Chicago, which will always be home to me, is very far away from College Town. I usually take a train there and stay at a relative's apartment for a few days during the summer so that I can attend neighborhood festivals, go to museums, eat Chicago-style hot dogs, and yell, "If you try to touch me again, you're going to LOSE that hand, freak show!" at creeps on the El.

However, due to the pandemic, all the Chicago festivals have been cancelled, and the museums have been closed for months. Since it's a big city where the majority of people rely on public transportation, and the streets are typically crowded, I'd basically have to wear a face mask all day. And even though I'd never be one of those people who throw food and scream at workers in grocery stores because they don't want to wear masks, I dislike wearing the masks too. (I still wear a face mask when I'm out in public though because literally every business in College Town prevents people from entering unless their faces are covered.) Also, the relative whose Chicago apartment I stay in while I'm there is a medical professional who treats coronavirus patients on a regular basis, so I don't feel safe going there right now.

I planned to at least get some scholarly research done so that I could finish an article that I've been working on and then try to get it published in a scholarly journal. Academia operates on the "publish or perish" motto, meaning if you don't publish scholarly articles and books, you won't be able to advance in your career. But the library at the college where I teach is still closed for the foreseeable future.

I feel like I've been cheated out of fully enjoying my summer break, but I try not to let it get to me too much. Therefore, I've had to come up with some other ways to fill up my time in College Town. Other than my website job, here is what I've been doing:

1. My gym has been closed for months, so I've been taking long walks outside for exercise almost every day. I usually walk around and around a park near my apartment, keeping track of the number of steps I take on my pedometer, until I get to at least 10,000 steps. I like to listen to music, podcasts, and audiobooks (I'm currently listening to Great Expectations by Charles Dickens) on my iPod as I walk. If no one's around, I like to sing along to the music on my headphones. I've been listening to a lot of rap and hip hop lately, so if you see a thirtysomething college professor rapping  "Bad and Boujee" by Migos during an early morning walk in the park, that's probably me.


Whenever someone jogs, bikes, or walks by, I quickly step six feet away from them or put my face mask on. I'm not the only one who does this; most of the people in College Town have been careful about social distancing, and some of them will even cross the street to avoid walking on the same sidewalk as others.

But one guy in the park got mad and screamed insults at me when I stepped away from him as he approached in the opposite direction; he must have taken it as a personal rejection. I responded, "I'm social distancing, B--H!" And then I walked backwards for a while so that I could glare at him while holding up a certain finger because you can take the girl out of Chicago, but you can't take the Chicago out of the girl. He didn't bother me again after that.

2. I belong to three different Meetup groups, but they haven't organized any events this summer because of social distancing. Anyway, there are few places we would have been able to go; most of the restaurants and coffee shops in College Town still won't allow indoor dining, even though it's technically allowed now in my state.

Other than using Zoom and texts to communicate with friends, I haven't had any social interaction in months, which is why I've started talking to the animals I see during my walks. I even named the squirrels I saw climbing trees; I gave them names like Lucy, Jimmy, and Thor. There are also geese swimming in a small pond in the park, and I named them too. One of them hissed at me when I got too close, and I responded, "Oh yeah? Well, I don't like you either, Maleficent!" I also now fully understand why Tom Hanks had conversations with the volleyball that he named Wilson when he played that guy who was stranded on a deserted island in the movie Cast Away. 

via GIPHY

3. I make up stories about the people I see at the park. I often see the same small group of elderly women sitting together at the park, although they sit far away from each other and wear masks while they're talking. I think to myself that maybe they're old friends who've known each other since childhood, a book club, a group of semiretired bank robbers planning one last heist, or a coven of elderly witches who've been inspired by the movie Hocus Pocus to steal the youth of the children at the park.

4. I still can't write in my favorite coffee shops, but I can at least buy coffee and doughnuts to go and bring them home to enjoy as I write at my desk. I've been steadily plugging away at my manuscript, Obsessions of a Workaholic. I'm in the editing stage right now, and I also outlined the structure of my book on note cards that I hung up on the wall next to my desk.

5. My writing space is set up in front of my windows, which face the courtyard down below. My neighbors work out down there sometimes, but two of them like to blast death metal for hours as they work out. The music sounds like howler monkeys screeching at each other while playing the guitar. I opened my windows, put my speakers on the windowsill, and then started blasting "Oops! I Did It Again" by Britney Spears on repeat. The death metal lovers looked up and cringed, and I looked down at them defiantly as if to say, "I've got a lot more Britney where THAT came from!" And then I started doing the "Oops! I Did It Again" dance that Britney did in her video in front of my windows.


via GIPHY

For some unknown reason, they no longer work out down there, and I've been able to go back to working in peace (I only listen to Britney on my headphones now. But I WILL blast all of my Britney playlists - yes, I have more than one - if the death metal lovers come back).

6. Although the college library is closed, the public library in College Town is now providing curbside pickup, which has been a godsend because I spent too much time reading toxic b.s. on social media that made me want to throw away my phone and move into the cave that Tom Hanks' Cast Away character lived in so that I don't have to read all the reasons that people hate each other on the Internet. I've read many books since the library reopened for curbside pickup, and it feels good to read something that isn't for work for once.

So, other than reading library books, working at my website job, writing, and walking  in the park, it's been a pretty uneventful summer. What about you? What have you been up to this summer?

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Throwaway Teacher

A couple months ago, Small Town Guy proposed a Zoom meetup for everyone in our social circle since we were all still living under the shelter in place order. I'd kept in touch with Small Town Guy and my other friends in Small Town through Facebook and texting, but I hadn't actually seen any of them since I moved to College Town three years ago.

The first time we all talked on Zoom, we ended up talking for more than three hours. It was wonderful to see all of them again and hear about their lives, as well as tell them about my life here in College Town. Small Town Guy is now living with his girlfriend. When I saw him on screen, I thought of how just a few years ago I thought I was head over heels for him, but whatever I felt for him paled in comparison to what I felt for the Model. Nevertheless, I couldn't help feeling a small pang when I saw him with his girlfriend in the house they share. I thought that if he had felt the same way about me back then, I might have suffered a lot less heartache than what I went through with the Model, especially because even though Small Town Guy has his flaws, he's not a narcissistic sociopath like the Model is. On paper, Small Town Guy was almost perfect for me (whereas the Model was wrong for me in pretty much every way), but he just wasn't that into me.

We all had such a good time talking to each other on Zoom that we arranged more Zoom meetups. But the most recent one ended badly, at least for me. I want to preface this by saying that I actually liked Small Town Guy's girlfriend because she was a nice person and I'd never had a conflict with her before. The Girlfriend, who is a tenured professor at the college where I used to teach in Small Town (though unlike me, she does not teach English classes because she works for a different department), kept talking about an award she'd won for her research.

Then we started talking about the classes we were teaching. I mentioned how a few of my students were not doing their assignments in the freshman composition classes I was teaching, and the Girlfriend said, "Well, that's because it's a throwaway class that no one cares about."

And that's was the moment that I wished that I was with her in person, so that I could do THIS:



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I didn't say anything right away, but through the webcam I could see my facial expression change from a cheerful smile to something more like this:



via GIPHY

I didn't say anything for a long time, until someone else commented that I was being really quiet. Finally, I spoke up: "You know, I don't think that the General Education classes that I teach are 'throwaway classes'. I think that they're important too."

The Girlfriend quickly said, "Oh, I wasn't talking about your classes." But she knows that as an untenured faculty member, the only classes that I am literally allowed to teach are General Education classes, like freshman composition and lower-level literature classes, whereas as a tenured professor, she gets to teach advanced classes and graduate seminars.

Small Town Guy did not say much either. He stayed out of the conversation and got down on the floor to play with their dog, maybe so he wouldn't have to look me in the eye or witness the smoke coming out of my ears.

I told them that I had to go and I logged out of the conversation. But here's what I wanted to say to the Girlfriend and to the others, many of whom were also tenured professors: "I'm not like you. I'm not on the tenure track. I most likely never will be. I admit that I envy you. But I don't resent your success because you earned it. But I work hard too, and I'm a good teacher. Yet no one will ever recognize the value of my work like they do yours just because I'm not a tenured professor. I'm not even eligible for more than half the awards that you've won because I'm untenured. Untenured faculty like me teach bigger classes and have heavier courseloads so that tenured professors like you can teach fewer, smaller classes that are related to your pet projects.

"Yes, it's true that most of the students don't want to take GenEd classes. But there's a reason that the classes I teach, unlike the classes YOU teach, are required for almost every college student in the country. The skills and knowledge I teach, like writing, are essential in college AND the workplace. I'm not saying that your classes aren't important too, but I AM saying that my classes are not 'throwaways' either.

"The reason some students ask for extensions isn't always because they view my classes as throwaways that they don't care about, as you so thoughtlessly put it. It's because they spend at least 6-7 hours a day on their phones and 1-2 hours a day on their homework. Then the deadlines start piling up and they panic and ask me for extensions. But not all of my students are like that. Some of them show me several pages of notes and outlines they wrote for a five-page paper. They want to do well and are willing to work hard.

"I know you didn't mean to insult me. But you did. And I need you to understand where I'm coming from, so that you'll understand why it's not okay to say crap like that."

But I didn't say that. I wish I had. It made me think of the pandemic and how although millions of people were furloughed or lost their jobs, others were classified as "essential" workers and were able to keep working. It made me wonder about the value people place on certain jobs and how it must have affected the people who weren't classified as "essential", even though their work was important too.

It also made me think of how that conversation, as well as the Girlfriend's attitude, was indicative of the hierarchical nature of academia. It's a world where there are way too many people with PhDs and not enough jobs, so we all have to do whatever we can to succeed. It's so competitive that it's cutthroat. And there's definitely a wide gap between the tenured faculty and untenured faculty because of the disparity in how we're treated and paid. But it's also a world that I chose to work and live in, so it's just something that I have to deal with.

But the next time they organize a Zoom meetup, I'm going to say that I can't join in. I'll just say something like, "Oh, I can't. I have to replenish my voodoo doll collection so that I can cast a curse on someone tonight, one that will hopefully cause them to have nightmares that make them wake up screaming or one that will cause their hair to turn into the snakes that adorned Medusa's head. But have fun on Zoom!"

I'm not saying I'll never talk to them again because I will. But I think it's best if I not participate in the next Zoom meetup because what the Girlfriend said still bothers me, and I don't want to lash out at her or any of the others.

What about you? Do you deal with competitive or condescending people in your line of work? Are you an essential worker, and if so, what has it been like for you?

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The New Normal

Three months ago, this is what a normal workday for me looked like: I drove to the college where I teach, walked past coeds throwing Frisbees or hanging out on the quad, and I smiled and waved at undergrads who called out, "Hi, Professor!" I taught my students how to write, do research, and analyze difficult texts, and I said things like, "You're not supposed to be on Snapchat right now. Put your phone away...No, I know you're not looking up something for class because I can literally see the animal filters on your phone."

Then, I either ate lunch in one of the dining halls or ate the lunch I brought in the office I shared with other untenured faculty (only tenured professors get their own offices), where we chatted about the classes we were teaching. After that, I held office hours with students to discuss their papers.

And then all of a sudden, everything changed. One day, I was teaching my students in the classroom. The next day, they were all forced to move out of their dorms and move back home. The faculty, most of whom had never taught online before, were given a one-hour workshop on how to use Zoom. We were told to be "creative" and "try to make the most of it" in our online classes.

Instead of driving to campus, I went to my living room, where I set up my desk, chair, computer, and filing cabinet in front of the window and prepared to do my work each day. I liked watching people walk their dogs, who were obviously happy at getting more time with their humans, and other people teach their kids how to ride their bikes. The Amazon Prime van and the FedEx truck showed up on a daily basis.

I set up online discussion forums with writing prompts. I posted notes online. I held office hours on Zoom. Many of my students did not read the notes I posted. They kept emailing to ask questions that they would already know the answer to if they had read the notes. (I responded, "The answer to that question is in the notes.") I tried to be understanding about missed assignments because I knew a lot of people had issues with WiFi, but it became frustrating when days or weeks passed by where they ignored my emails and the incomplete assignments started piling up. I finally had to impose penalties on the ones who weren't doing their work, even though I felt bad about doing so. I ended up with severe carpal tunnel syndrome from spending so much time in front of my computer.

I attended faculty meetings on Zoom. I received several emails from my department head, who said that most of the faculty in the English Department will have to continue teaching online in the fall. She said that we can opt out of that and teach on campus, but then our fall schedule will change so that we will get classes scheduled in the early morning, the evening, or on Saturdays (basically, the classes that no one wants to teach). So in other words, it's not really a "choice".

When the shelter in place order was first imposed, I received several worried emails from my students, who were upset about the loss of half of their spring semester. When I talked to them on Zoom, I felt sad too; I felt angry that they were cheated out of a significant part of the college experience. For them, going to college isn't just about going to class. It's about living in a dorm away from their parents, where they can experience independence for the first time in their lives. It's about staying up with their roommates or friends until 2 A.M. It's about going to college parties, meeting new people, and trying all these new things. And they were denied all of that.

Not to mention, they are paying thousands of dollars in tuition for resources that they can't use, such as the science labs or the library (they can use the library's online resources, but they can't check out print copies of the books). One of my students is a theater major who had gotten a leading role in a school play, which was cancelled due to the lockdown. I thought of other students who were suffering from depression or other mental health problems and couldn't take advantage of the school's counseling services. And it just made me feel even angrier.

I understand why the shelter in place order was imposed. But it also made me feel sad for the college seniors, who were cheated of the graduation they had spent four years working for and the opportunity to walk across the stage and be honored for their accomplishments. It made me feel sorry for the high school seniors, who didn't get to go to their senior prom, their senior trip, or their graduations. They'll never get that back.

It also makes me angry when I see people ignoring rules about social distancing, like the college kids on spring break and the one who said, "If I get corona, I get corona," and of course, several of them did get infected with the virus. This is the same generation who says, "OK Boomer," which basically means that they dismiss everyone whose opinion differs from theirs and act like because we're older than them, that means that we're ignorant/politically incorrect/dumb, but then turned around and claimed that it wasn't their fault because the adults didn't tell them about how serious the virus was. My response to that is, "What-EVER, Gen Z."



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The only place I went to on a regular basis was the grocery store because that was one of the only places that was open. I went to the grocery store sometimes just so I could talk to people since I live alone and didn't have anyone else to talk to, except my students. Everyone was wearing masks, which was helpful on days like when one of the grocery store employees screamed at me because I reached for a cart that had not been sanitized yet, and she couldn't see me mouthing the words, "Not today, Satan," through my mask.

It did, however, make me appreciate the things that I could do. I felt grateful that I did not get sick from the virus. I felt grateful that at least I still had my jobs (I also have a second job for a website, which I was already doing remotely), unlike many other people who lost theirs. My former dance teacher in Chicago, who performs in many plays in the city and also teaches dance classes at gyms, like the one that I was a member of, started posting videos of his workouts online. He also posted his Venmo screenname in case anyone wanted to send donations in exchange for his online workouts. I felt bad for him because unlike me, he could not do his job from home. I sent him several donations, which added up to about a hundred dollars (I used some of the money that I got from my stimulus check.) We weren't really friends when I lived in Chicago, but we lived in the same neighborhood and he was always kind to me when I ran into him or when I took his classes. I wanted to help him.

I felt grateful that I could still do things like write, read, and listen to music. When College Town's public library finally reopened (curbside pickup only), I immediately requested a stack of books and felt happier than the time I drove past the Starbucks that had recently reopened for drive-thru (when I saw it, I yelled out my car window as I drove past, "I've missed you! Never leave me again!" because I may or may not have a minor addiction to caffeine.)

This whole situation has made me value the things I took for granted before, like teaching in a classroom, walking around without a mask, writing in a coffee shop, etc. It makes me hope that things will get better, and that the people who got sick will make a full recovery.

What about you? How did the pandemic affect you or your life?