Saturday, December 14, 2013

what the near future holds

It's Saturday the 14th. I spent several hours, on Friday the 13th, finalizing grades and reconciling my attendance sheets. That's all done now. We've got a "grading meeting" (I'm surprised the department didn't opt for calling it the more alliterative "marking meeting") next week, in which we will discuss certain aspects of how we assessed our students. After the meeting, we'll go back to our computers and click a little check mark, which will place our number-grade results online for the students to see for themselves.

And then the complaints will roll in. Because we use a 10-point grading scale, I was advised to steer clear of giving grades ending in "9": a student might be tempted to write in and beg for "just one more point, Professor!" I agree that an 89 would look awfully frustrating to a student: being just one point shy of an "A" has to be painful. At the same time, I take a very dim view of begging for better grades. It's unseemly and embarrassing, even if the student doing the begging is unaware of how undignified he or she looks in that moment.

We've also got to face the music: students will draw up their end-of-semester evaluations of us. Unlike the midterm evaluations, which we call "CQIs" in our department, these will have a number value assigned to them. I'm curious as to the timing, though: will the students do these evals before they learn their grades, or after? If it's after, then some of my "F" students are going to use the evals as a way to exact petty revenge. The criticism most likely to make me laugh scornfully: "Teacher never gave me extra help when I needed it." The truth is that I was available all semester long, and I regularly told my students to ask me questions whenever they were in doubt. If they failed to use me as a resource, that's their own damn fault.

But we'll see. The evals haven't come in yet, and I'm not sure when they will. I'm not even sure whether they will arrive in paper form, or be done online, where I can look them up.

With almost all of the admin stuff out of the way, all that remains to do is to pack my work station up in preparation for The Big Move Across Campus. When the office was doling out packing boxes, I stole the biggest one they had because—I thought at the time—I'd need to pack up not only my computer but also my electric fan, which I still use, even in the winter.* It now turns out that I won't have to pack my computer: the movers will be gingerly carrying it over separately. Which makes me feel like an idiot: I've got this huge box, and the only bulky item going into it will be an electric fan.

So I'll go to the office on Monday to do my packing. I hope our department's office will have some packing tape at the ready. I won't pack my computer, which will need to remain unpacked until December 24 for "final button day," i.e., the day we officially lock in our scores. I'm not clear on whether we can do our locking-in before the 24th (I'd prefer not to have to visit the office on Christmas Eve); that's one of the things I'll find out next week, along with finding out about the students' teacher evals.

I've also got a meeting with our department head on Monday at 3PM: we'll be talking about (1) the pronunciation workshop that I may or may not be teaching next semester (the proposal I had written up was apparently accepted), as well as (2) the possibility of extra work from a third party next year. That latter thing isn't a huge secret; in fact, I'm glad that I have to be above-board about this. Back in April/May, when I was in Seoul to do my job-hunting, I met with Patrick of KMA (the Korea Management Association, first mentioned here). He offered me a sweet teaching gig, mainly teaching business English to high-powered exec types, that would pay about W75,000 per hour (about $68.20/hour), and that came with a very flexible schedule. Because KMA is a quasi-governmental organization, everything needs to be in the open. That comes as a relief: whenever possible, I'd rather not skulk around. I'm hoping that my director will give me formal permission to work with KMA, but there's always a chance she'll say no. Keep those fingers and tentacles crossed. If she says yes, I'll be meeting with Patrick in Seoul next Saturday to discuss my association with KMA.

So it's all over but the thrashing. If I do secure side-employment with KMA, I'll be somewhat busy during my vacation months—January and February—on the assumption that whatever I do with KMA will take up no more than one or two days per week. I do have some other projects, though:

1. Course improvements. Now that I've taught my first semester at DCU, I have a clearer idea of what improvements I'd like to make in class format, curriculum design, and teaching methods. Some of those ideas come from the reactions I received during my presentation at our second mini-conference; some come directly from my in-class experience. The basic round-robin format still seems workable, to me, for my intermediates. They all took to it wonderfully. For my beginners, I will either scale down the round-robin or adopt another "students teach students" format. (One suggestion, at the conference, was that I have only one group of students teach a lesson for the entire class session, and that I rotate groups from session to session. That's not a bad idea. It may provide the "audience" with the temptation to be passive, but much depends on how the students actually teach.)

I have other improvements in mind as well; some of those ideas have to do with the admin side of teaching—dealing with grade-begging and makeup tests and so on. I also plan to incorporate the voice files from this semester's midterm and final exams into my exam reviews for next semester: this will give my new crop of students a chance to hear and avoid the gaffes that my previous students made. I also think I might include a stronger writing component as a way to reinforce active vocabulary. Writing can definitely reinforce speaking, since both writing and speaking are productive macroskills.

2. Reworking Korean class. Having taught my first-ever Korean class to adult students (my esteemed colleagues), I now have a much better idea of the psychological dimensions of such work. Teaching one's adult peers is a very different animal from teaching sleepy, unmotivated Korean undergrads. One way in which I failed my group is that I should have pushed everyone harder, but I was initially afraid to treat the group members as if they were teens, berating them for laxity or loudly exhorting them to produce when they were too hesitant to do so. I didn't want to frustrate or humiliate anyone.

I also need to organize the material I generated into a single huge PDF file, and/or create an actual, physical textbook. (There are copying services in the neighborhood that can create perfect-bound texts from material you provide: cover-design graphics and PDF-text content.) I also feel bad that most of what I did this semester involved introducing material; we had too little time to engage in practice and reinforcement. The students should have had more time in class to practice what they were learning, so next time around, if I stick with the "90 minutes per week" schedule, I'm going to have to make the units smaller to give everyone time to practice and review. I'm also going to assign more homework, some of which will be multimedia-oriented, i.e., assignments that might involve recording oneself on a cell phone, rendering the video into a standard format, then either emailing me the results or uploading the vids to YouTube.

There are also little things that I'd like to change. I'd like to incorporate French-style dictées (dictation exercises) as a way to improve both listening and writing skills. I'd like to create information-gapping exercises that students can do with partners. I'd like to end each unit by having the students study the intro to the next unit so that, when I teach the next unit, the students will already be armed with new knowledge.

3. Online books. I'd like to get my original Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms into e-book form and start it selling on Amazon. I'd also like to follow that up with a second book of humor, mostly collected from this blog and from my Twitter feed. While it'd be tempting to title the second collection Scarier Spasms in Hairier Chasms, that doesn't seem a very creative move. So I'll cogitate a bit and come up with a title that I like. I'd also like to revise Water from a Skull a bit and create an e-book version of that work, too, for sale on If those books end up selling anything, I'll take that as encouragement and will proceed to my next book project: the story of the last several years of my life, from about 2008 to now.

Now that I think of it, that ought to be plenty to keep me busy during break.

*I walk fifteen minutes to campus, and the final part of that walk is up three flights of stairs, since our damn building has no elevator—a common problem on many Korean college campuses, which have no notion of handicap-friendly access. I'm fat so I'm handicapped, dammit! (No: I'm handi-capable.) Anyway, my point is that I sweat, even in the wintertime, and I desperately need to cool down when I arrive at my office. The fan helps.


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