Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Honestly, People!

It’s been about five years since I started grading essays in some capacity or another. I’ve whined about it before, but it is mind-blowing just how horrible college essays can be. If you ever want your faith in the educational system to be eliminated, just see what incoherent drivel is constantly being churned out by those who are somehow receiving bachelor’s degrees. Worse, academic integrity is disturbingly absent. Every semester that I’ve taught or been a TA in a class that required essays from its students, I have had at least one case of plagiarism. I’ve also been in charge of tracking attendance in oversized classes where a simple roll call is too impractical. In such classes, we’ve tracked attendance by having a sign-in sheet that students must sign as they come into the classroom, or that gets passed around the classroom during the lecture, etc. Think a lot of fraud goes on there? Indeed. I estimate that, during the current semester, I receive an average of 5—6 forged signatures per class meeting. These are students who are signing in their friends, even though their friends are not showing up to class. It’s a joke.

Why do I bring all of this up? Well, as the end of the semester draws near, I realize that a lot of these scamming students are reaping the benefits of their misdeeds. Even the one or two students that have received some sort of academic penalty are not getting the punishments they deserve. There are at least three plagiarism cases this semester from the one class for which I’m a TA, but the instructor does not want to pursue them in any rigorous manner. Instead, the students receive a heavy point-reduction on their essays and a nice little warning written at the end of their paper. Yes, this will disappoint these students, since they expected to get away with the plagiarism. But it’s a slap on the wrists compared to what their punishment could and probably should be. At my previous institution, plagiarism resulted in an automatic “F” for the course, no questions asked. And there was an official note put into your file so that subsequent instances could be more severely dealt with. That’s not going on here. Neither are those committing attendance fraud going to be held accountable. The instructor of the class has informed me, in not so many words, that it would be opening a can of worms for us to deny certain students attendance points for days on which a signature appears next to their name. Never mind the fact that I know who these students are, that I specifically watched for them to come to class and verified that they weren’t there, that their signatures look vastly different on days when I also could not see them in class, that I have done a headcount and verified that I received 8 or 9 more signatures than students were in class that day. But hey, somebody signed these students in, so we better just give them the points. Way to go, dishonest students. Had you been honest, you would have lost points, but because we know you weren’t honest, we have to give you the points. Well played.

And since I’m complaining … can it really be going on midnight, going into December 1st, and I’m dying to turn on the A/C in our apartment? The answer: yes!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Putting My Scanner to Use

I admit. Sometimes I think I’m very funny. Probably a lot more often than anyone else does, but that’s okay. One such instance occurred just the other night, after Melanie and I had taken a grocery shopping trip to Wal-Mart. With it being late in the afternoon, we decided to buy something quick and easy for dinner, and so we purchased a couple of frozen pizzas that were on sale. One pizza (that I chose, unfortunately) was a Buffalo Chicken pizza. Now, I’ve always had the problem of thinking of Buffalo Chicken, Buffalo Wings, and other Buffalo treats as being barbecue based. I’ve thought this even though I’ve learned on more than one occasion that this is not true. Buffalo sauce is some kind of hot sauce based concoction, rather on the spicy side. And so, that’s what our pizza had all over it. This concerned us once we started eating because Melanie is breastfeeding Creegan and we didn’t want her to eat something that would ultimately upset our baby boy.

Now, I am anything but an artist, but I decided to draw a warning label that can be applied to all spicy foods to serve as a warning to breastfeeding mothers that the food in question is potentially dangerous to their young ones. I grabbed a napkin and a ballpoint pen and came up with this:

Of course, on the products, the picture will have to have a “jet” through it, like so:

For the record, Edison coined the phrase “jet” to refer to the familiar red circle with a line through it, indicating a warning. I don’t know why he started calling it a jet, but it’s stuck with us and now it seems like a good word for the thing.

Because I was using my scanner to take a picture of my napkin art, I thought I’d also scan the cover a book that Edison (or perhaps Peter) recently picked out from our local library. It’s a children’s book, but the cover is a bit unsettling. Even the title of the book seems all too easily to hint at something very perverse. I’m just glad there aren’t only two civil servants standing in the background, one Caucasian and one African-American, or I’d start thinking Mr. Levine and Ms. Lewin really are trying to corrupt our youth.

Thanks, and good night!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

...and Exhale

I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief right now. I’ve faced the inevitable, spoken to the appropriate powers that be, and officially postponed my taking of a special area exam until next semester. I wrote about the special area exam (hereafter SAE) in some detail here, but as a quick reminder, it’s an exam that all PhD students must take before they can officially register for dissertation hours. I knew aiming to take the SAE this semester would make my life incredibly hectic, but I forged ahead with the plan anyway. Things were going pretty well until I got my first batch of essays to grade as a TA and, during the very same week, found out I had diverticulitis. I feel like that’s when everything got derailed. I got behind on things and haven’t been able to catch up. Then Creegan arrived, about two weeks early, which was semi-expected but nevertheless added to the craziness for several days. The deadline for taking the SAE this semester is now a mere two weeks away. It’s an impossibility at this point, because it took something like four or five weeks to do just the preliminary work on only about half or the articles I need to read. Bottom line, I probably still need a couple of months to prepare. And so, I’m thinking late January, early February. Either way, it won’t matter, because it won’t be within the next couple of weeks. Really, it should be a lot easier because next semester I won’t be taking any regular classes. All of my non-TA efforts can go directly to the SAE and then to preparing for a dissertation prospectus. If those are the only things on my academic plate outside of my TA responsibilities, I think I might actually get somewhere. Regardless, not trying to take the SAE this semester is a huge weight off of my mental shoulders.

Looking at the next month or so, I’ve got another big batch of papers coming in next week that will need to be graded. A couple of weeks after that, I’ll have a final paper due in the seminar I’m taking. And that’s basically it, school-wise. Not shabby at all. Quite tolerable. Again, I should be working on preparing for the SAE even now, but that can safely go on the backburner as needed. All in all, I’m feeling good.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Fatherhood, Take 3

When a new child arrives, there is so much to say about it and yet so little time to say it. Life has been pretty crazy since Creegan was born. With Melanie and Creegan staying the mandatory 48 hours in the hospital after Creegan’s departure from the womb, I became a single parent of two. I am not accustomed to being the primary caretaker, and sadly this makes me pretty bad at it sometimes. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, we’re all exhausted, but when you’re the parent, you’re supposed to handle whatever happens with restraint. I’ve failed numerous times in the past week, being quite short-tempered with my two eldest. Poor guys. They seem to be doing really well, but I know they’re affected by all of this, too. When they’re not completely obedient or otherwise test me, I know there are better ways to respond than lashing out at them, but that’s what I’m doing all too often. For crap’s sake.

Creegan came home on Saturday. On Tuesday, he was back in the hospital because his jaundice was quite extreme. It seems like every baby I’ve ever heard of has had jaundice, so I wasn’t scared by it, but it was still sad to have him going back to the hospital. Melanie stayed with him, which meant she too was gone. Once again, I was a single parent. We hoped the jaundice would improve overnight, but it didn’t improve enough. Creegan (and Melanie) were stuck until at least Thursday morning. That meant I was stuck as a single parent until at least Wednesday evening, when Melanie’s parents would arrive in town. Making it to Wednesday evening wouldn’t have been so bad, except for the fact that I had a paper due on Wednesday afternoon. It was a paper for which I had already received an extension because Creegan was born. Even though another extension might have been warranted once Creegan was going back to the hospital, I really didn’t want to have to ask for even more time. Miraculously, I got the essay completed, with a little bit of help from the television, which acted as a babysitter for much of the day. I felt bad about that, but I didn’t want to take the time to drive Eddie and Peter to a human babysitter. I didn’t feel like I had time even for that. (Everyone we know whom we would feel comfortable asking to babysit lives about 20-30 minutes away, so taking the kids to a human babysitter would have eaten up a decent chunk of time.)

Melanie’s parents coming into town has been a sigh of relief. They’re very helpful, and it makes me feel much less guilty about doing schoolwork and other necessary things when they entertain Eddie and Peter. Melanie and Creegan finally came home yesterday afternoon. Creegan had yet another follow-up visit with his doctor this morning, and things are looking great. He’s home for good, which is awesome. Mind you, the awesomeness brings challenges. The only perk to having Melanie and Creegan at the hospital is that I got a full night’s sleep. Those are no more, I suppose. (During the first two years of a child’s life, the parents lose an average of half a year of sleep!) Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they’re here. It’s just that I’m already feeling quite exhausted—even more so than before.

I’ll end this post on a happy note, with a few pictures. I’m only posting a few because many of the pictures we’ve taken haven’t yet been uploaded to our computer. Also, I don’t want to spend copious amounts of time looking over the pictures and trying to choose the best ones. Hopefully these will satisfy those family members and friends who have been eagerly watching and waiting for additional photos to appear.