Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The End of Commentary

This concludes the re-posting of old commentary. Everything on the site is backed up, if a bit abridged... But now I'm I will continue the rebuilding at a later date.

On a final note: the only posts that I claim direct authorship to are the ones signed "-anon". All of the others are either linked articles or one of the various anonymous authors from the old version of Exploitation Anonymous.

Stayed tuned for the thrilling conclusion to SUNY fucking us over.


Spread the Knowledge Thinner

Seriously, your teaching sections will take up as much time as you allow them to.
Try limiting yourself to working 20 hours a week, or maybe start with 25. Do all of your school work first and put yourself ahead of your class. Here's why: You can still do a good job with a little less effort in your teaching because, you are not paid as much as a full-time professor. Your research into the _____ of 19th cent _____ is more important than whether or not every student in your class fully understands MLK's I have a Dream Speech, because ultimately, your work in your own studies will get you a job before whether or not one student will get the concept you are putting forth. This doesn't mean sacrificing your students for yourself, or maybe it does, but so what. Every experienced teacher, and I mean years and years on the job teachers...your 50 yo AP teacher from high school will tell you that you have to put yourself first or else your kids will never get your best. Because if you are so stressed that you couldn't finish your mid-term paper for ENG 565q because you were grading, you will not be an effective teacher. There are so many ways to evaluate students in the classroom that you need to carve out time over the course of two weeks or so to grade their papers, not because it takes for ever, but because you need to remain sane while doing it. However, you will kill yourself if you do not put yourself ahead of them and get done what you need to get done first. Then devote time to them. There is nothing so essential about a single day's lesson that it cannot be delayed if necessary. In fact your whole class objective for the semester should be less about covering material and more about hammering in a few, yes a few, extremely important skills. You can teach them millions of interesting facts and ways to analyze, but unless they have a foundation, they will get nowhere. And yes, keep the class simple and middle-grounded. The smart kids should have opted out of the class in the first place. And despite the notion of the wellfare state, not every kid is going to do well in college. Not every kid should be at Binghamton. This isn't social darwinism, but rather a recognition that there are different skill levels and different colleges to match those skill levels. There has to be a point at which your kids come toward what objectives you are getting at, not you always lagging for their sake. And I agree, office hours are a good place to deal with those issues. However, I imagine, given that you are graduate students, that you never had a professor coddle you. You probably had several who did the opposite, and it made you a better student and a better writer. Ask your kids to hone those basic skills and really challenge them to write well, but if they don't get it, they don't get it. Do not kill yourself. You are actually in charge of how much work you do.

That aside. We should get more money. That's a separate issue though. The general tone of the poster campaign has been: make us do less work. Not pay us more, which is both more productive and more likely to happen. It is so much cheaper for them to give us some more money than it would be for them to lessen our workload, so I say focus on the issue that helps you pay rent.

But seriously stick to a self-imposed 20-25 hour limit...keep in mind that the contract says an average of 20 hours a week, so on grading weeks, 20-25 is a stretch. See if you can't actually make it work for you, it's not entirely unreasonable. Also, make your office hours one hour more per week than is required, but then cut yourself off from doing any more than that. Do not answer student emails, because no email about how to cite a magazine is an emergency. Train the students to adhere to your policy. Here's another idea: create the 3 before me system, in that students must consult three sources and show that they have before they are allowed to ask you any question that crops up. It makes them do a little work, looking at dictionaries and talking to their friends in class. And it saves you lots of time.

Another thing experienced teachers will tell you: there is no single solution to making yourself more efficient or saving your time. However, if you do a lot of little things and have your students do a lot of little things, the time is there.

The last time someone posted a series of suggestions to save you time they got mocked, but what you don't realize is that they were speaking from a place of experience. Take some education courses or go work in a high school and soon enough you realize that a) you have it easy, and b) the stuff that works for high school teachers works because it works, not because those kids are 15.

I am rambling, but basically understand that education theory is well-researched and well-practiced and that the education kids in your classrooms who are finishing their MAT knows ridiculous amounts more about teaching than any of us do (unless you were one of those kids) and their theories and ideas would be really helpful.

Also, lastly, what is stopping anyone here from reading about professional development and working on it on their own a little but each week? Instead of just asking for the dept to do everything for you, which, yes it should be doing, why go do it for yourself. If you spent an hour a week reading about how to teach I bet you'd save twice as much time on the back end.



In response to this comment:

And maybe if this campaign had all happened when the workload actually changed, and not three years later when you had several classes of students, including many of you, signing on and getting paid exactly what was promised to them, two classes, you'd have a little more clout on the issues that do seem to matter. The funding cuts, the lack of professional development (although clearly many posters on this site resist the idea that there is any room for improvement in their teaching), health insurance for MA students with a teaching load, and the desire for more class options are all real issues that have gotten hidden by the sloganeering.

I assume from this comment that you were not here three years ago. Since you asked, there was a contingent at that time, the first semester of the double workload, who filed a grievance through the proper channels, which subsequently was promptly dismissed by those in power with a measly offer of a piddling pay-off to keep the discontents quiet. I think a lot of what you're seeing in the signs can be traced back to the frustration with the non-outcome of the initial grievance.

I don't know how you can say that the "real issues" have "gotten hidden by the sloganeering." The real issues have been covered over by an administration and faculty that purposely misrepresent and belittle our situation. The official party line is "we don't see it as a problem" because the bottom line is always the numbers and the budget and the status quo at all costs (literally). Nowhere is the quality of education a concern, either for grad students or undergrads. They may acknowledge that conditions are ideal, but they continually defer making any changes because they can't deal with it in a timely fashion. It's always, "Next semester maybe we'll have time to begin to discuss it then, after we go through the proper channels." This is why the problem has festered for three years.

We now learn that even the external review of the composition program is being viewed and implemented with reluctance and consternation, since the interim dean didn't go the "normal route" (whatever that may be) in inviting the external reviewers, or hiring one of them since they uncovered very real problems in the workload and distribution of teaching here.

While it's problematic to say that any visibility is good visibility, and while I acknowledge that many of the signs (which, by the way, are for the most part GONE) are not the most productive means to voice our concerns, you're being naive to deny that they have been a factor in putting these issues on the table. (Just the other day at the coffee kiosk I overheard LAC students talking about the English grad student issues, which I doubt they would have heard about if not for the signs or the Pipe Dream articles, etc.) If anything, the real issues are FINALLY being addressed because of the pressure that the signs and other avenues (the GSEU lawyer, et al.) have put upon the administration.

I agree it would have been ideal to have built solidarity as these issues arose, three years ago or this very semester (as for the four year total funding cuts), but that's not always possible. And unfortunately it still isn't. Summer is almost here, and a new crop of grad students are coming in--oblivious to the exploitation that awaits them, UNLESS we keep these issues alive.

By whatever means necessary.

Ridiculous Posters

Maybe those posters would not have gotten posted if they weren't so ridiculous to start with. Maybe if instead of bullying other grad students, embarrassing colleagues with coercion and misreadings of theory, monopolizing board space, calling out faculty, stickering over any surface that could be found, including the University of Vermont MFA program and other posters just because you decided your issues were more important that anything that could have been up on those boards, pretending like you are the only thing that exists, then maybe, just maybe people wouldn't be mocking the posters.

Maybe if their were a respectful, lucid, and collective thought and platform being presented instead of a bunch of childish, then maybe this could have all been avoided. From the start of the semester, the posters, while raising awareness, lowered the level of discourse to childishness that couldn't be taken seriously. Maybe if you didn't post them on this site like a badge of honor that we were all supposed to laud you for, for your clear wit and intelligence, then maybe you'd have more support.
And maybe if this campaign had all happened when the workload actually changed, and not three years later when you had several classes of students, including many of you, signing on and getting paid exactly what was promised to them, two classes, you'd have a little more clout on the issues that do seem to matter. The funding cuts, the lack of professional development (although clearly many posters on this site resist the idea that there is any room for improvement in their teaching), health insurance for MA students with a teaching load, and the desire for more class options are all real issues that have gotten hidden by the sloganeering.
There is serious amount of defensiveness among this group that is counter-productive, if those vocal and abusive of you could listen to other sides of things, then there could be a little more dialogue about these issues.

Productive Discourse

I'm tired of hearing about 'productive discourse' from the most counterproductive voices on this blog. These 'productive discourse' advocates are constituted by voices that never, ever surface unless there's flaming to be done. Post a unifying letter of solidarity by Einstein, and you've got 0 comments. Post two peace-keeping, cogently worded, even tempered entries, and once again: no comments. But here, all it takes is one satirical response to an entry about time management, and you've got a gamut of knee-slapping one liners about brain tumors:

"What shape will your negative energy take on when they remove the tumor it causes in your brain?
My guess, a starfish.

Way to facilitate constructive dialog."

Rhetorically, this move is unimaginative and inarticulate. If you're going to critique negative energy, that is valid. But presenting a counterpoint to negative energy with more negative energy is illogical. Is this your definition of productive discourse? Is this how you teach students to structure their own forms of productive discourse?

This about 'Productive Discourse':

Why is it that every single time a positive blog entry is posted on GradExploit, no one responds? Why is it that a post that could be taken as slightly inflammatory is immediately populated by a flame war? Conversely, why is it everytime someone raises a cogent argument, the thread of inquiry suddenly dies?

This leads me to believe that 'productive discourse' isn't something you actually want. Why keep posting here, to let the rest of us know that we're creating unproductive discourse? What I'm gathering is this: you don't agree with the viewpoints posted here. You don't like the posters in the English Department hallway. You don't like the people behind the posters, or this blog. You presumably don't like the GSEU . Am I missing anything? What you dislike is abundantly clear. What do you like? How about contributing something besides your own brand of negative energy?

Here are some possible topics for future discussions. Consider taking part in them:

1. Without resorting to ad hominem attacks or belittling other graduate students, tell us your narrative. What do you like about the Department of English? What classes are you taking? Which faculty mentors do you find particularly helpful? How do you manage your time? Do you have any tips about how to get through the program at a faster, more productive rate?

2. Do you see any potential problems with this English department? What are they? What is your own productive solution to these problems?

If you do not perceive any problems in the department, simply focus your entries on question number one.

See, it's that easy. No tumors necessary.


Hi, I'm the haiku-writer and wasn't at the meeting yesterday. I'm sure a thorough process of elimination would enable you to figure out who I am. Anyway, I DO use KK wants to get rid of it, but I find it exceedingly helpful. I'm really looking forward to not accepting my assignment next semester, especially considering that might end up being a thing of the past.

You've nicely told us that we're spending too much time grading. Two things about this: 1. We were never trained. I came here and was thrown into a classroom at 22 years old. I only learned by trial and error, and lost my health and any vague semblance of a personal life in the process. 2. Also keep in mind that not everyone in the dept is teaching two sections of 20 students. I teach a lecture course at the 300 level. Many people commenting here have a similar assignment. Grading anywhere from 45-90+ students can and will take you 35 hours a week. I'm grading midterms right now, and they are a minimum of 10 pages per person. I'm doing this on top of reading and preparing lesson plans on Foucault. Trust me when I say that a 300 level class involves a great deal of prep time, as I'm dealing with senior English majors who expect challenging reading material and stimulating lectures.

In terms of next semester, many of my colleagues were assigned one section of 45 students as an upper level course, plus a 20 person Eng 115 (plus a Rhet 245 1 credit course). This is going to be an absolute time-sucker, and there's no way any of them are going to get their dissertations written. They have to prepare for two+ different classes, one of which is writing-intensive, the other being reading intensive. Between preparation for 2+ courses, grading 65 papers, office hours, writing 3 syllabi, and actual time spent in the classroom, this will amount to 35 hours a week, period. This would be fine, if we weren't STUDENTS. Writing DISSERTATIONS. Finishing EXAMS. And then, navigating an abysmal job market. Time IS money, and I don't mean these pathetic stipends, or the even-more pathetic paycheck adjuncts receive after 'failure' to finish in four years.

The tough-love approach I've seen featured all over this blog is the 'suck it up / grad school is hard' simplified nonsense. Of course grad school is hard, but I (and others) want the chance to be an actual grad student. Dear Tough-Lovers, get ready for what happens when you finish coursework. You don't feel like a student at all, and it's because you're not a student. You're someone responsible for writing an exam, an exam that will never been commented on by your faculty advisor. Your advisor likely won't even help you construct a reading list, as I was told to "go look at amazon" instead. You won't see this advisor all semester long, but that's fine, because they'll probably be on sabatical anyway. And you'll go to campus to teach, possibly visit the library, and take the 15 Leroy back to home, where you will sit all night grading. On some dark night of the soul, you first and second year PhD students may realize: I am not a student, and this realization will require an Ativan. Because you're not. You're not a student. You're cheap labor, but you're also getting a piece of paper out of the deal. It'll say "doctor" and no one will give a shit because there's thousands of others just like you, unless your CV has something shiny on it (besides, y'know, the 45 classes you taught) but that is unlikely. We have no professional development here, though perhaps you can be one of the special ones to rise above it all, and have a great future teaching a 4/4 load in Laramie, Wyoming.

So, if anyone wants to say, "you're lucky that SUNY Binghamton prepared you, because you're going to spend a life teaching a 4/4 courseload while serving on various committees," I say: ha. I can thank SUNY Binghamton for this: I am leaving this place and will never enter a classroom again. Yes, I love teaching and I'm damn good at it. Yes, I love research. Yes, I love literature. However, I'm not spending a life teaching freshman comp and/or being an administrator. I will not spend a decade as adjunct. I don't love "the profession" enough to sacrifice my personal relationships for it, either. I cannot, nor will I have a spouse, and a family, and friends, AND a life as an artist if I'm teaching a 4/4 courseload, possibly as an adjunct. Perhaps it's possible to "do both," and maybe you'll be the one to have it all. Maybe, somehow, your CV is the phoenix in all of this. I certainly hope it is, as I truly want nothing but the best for the rest of you (which is why I'm so disgruntled. I think we deserve actual professional development. We deserve a CHANCE to be something other than a lifetime adjunct.)

I began this program wanting a career in Academe. After realizing far, far too late what type of job market they're "preparing" us for (I mean, job market we prepare ourselves for) I will instead sell insurance in Northern New Jersey and hopefully marry into money.

Where dreams go to die, infuckingdeed. At least I still have a chance for happiness in the future. Maybe you do, too. There's always the future.



I really do think there is a lot of truth in the discussion from the meeting yesterday about inexperience causing the workload/time management issues to be a major reason why some TAs are spending as much time as they are doing their work.

If this isn't your first semester teaching and you are spending 35 hours a week teaching, prepping, grading, etc, then are doing too much work.

There was some uncomfortable shifting in the room when KK said she could make you a better teacher and that she knew what she was doing, and I know it sucks to hear you're not the best at something, but I think she's right. Except for reading books for 117, it shouldn't really take anyone more than an hour or two of prep work a week to do lesson plans, which chances are you can do in your office hours. If you are spending more than 5-10 minutes a paper when grading, you are spending too much time. If you are reading drafts, and want to continue to, make it an assignment instead of a offer, and have it replace one of the papers your students write.
Don't read a paper for a student beforehand; instead, make them bring topics and questions and concerns to you. Refer them to the writing center, tell them to get their friends to help them, and make it seem less that you're delegating and more that you're allowing additional people to give opinions on the work etc.
Student-centered learning, which again elicits cringes I'm sure, is based on the idea that students are actively engaged in their own learning, not you as teacher handing down all the knowledge needed. The most effective way to learn something is to teach it to someone else, so let your students do the work. Make them grade each other for daily assignments. Ask education majors for help...yes you know more about literature, but they know more, possibly a lot more, about teaching.

Also, you just have to get over it and use it if you're worried about cheating. Students probably aren't that offended about your using it...just tell them you had problems in the past you just want to be sure. Or help instill in them the sense that catching people cheating, when, not if, it happens helps the value of their diploma.

The End.