one week until Spring Semester

One week from today, I’ll be teaching my first day of classes of Spring Semester. This “break” has felt so, so short, and I don’t really feel ready for it to be over. Not least because my classes aren’t actually set up yet! My kid went back to school on Tuesday, so I spent Tuesday and Wednesday this week mapping out schedules for my classes. And as I’ve been working on all of this, I’ve also been thinking a lot about how to incorporate the recent developments in AI into my classes in a way that’s not about policing students but rather about helping them think through how to use the tools that exist in ethical and productive ways. It’s a strange time to be a writing professor whose background is actually in cognitive science and computational linguistics; I know a LOT about how systems like ChatGPT work, and I also know a LOT about how human language production works, and of course I know a LOT about writing pedagogy, too, and I’ve ended up doing a lot of explaining, debunking, and just generally trying to help folks who don’t have my background understand how they can approach these issues productively in their writing classrooms. This is all really important stuff to be thinking about, but it doesn’t actually get my classes set up.

I made the mistake yesterday of reading my course evaluations from last semester, and they were actually more positive than I expected given what a slog one of my classes in particular was, but a couple of the more critical comments from that class got me spinning and my mind just wouldn’t let go. It was especially frustrating because those comments came from the class that had abysmal attendance and for which I had to constantly be extending deadlines just because no one was actually getting the work done, and it just felt so yucky that my “reward” for working as hard as I did to accommodate them, coach them, and get them to do anything at all was to be criticized for how “rushed” things felt at the end. I mean, yeah, that’ll happen when you don’t do the scaffolded assignments when they’re actually scheduled to be due. That’s not really on me! But of course students are not going to be that level of self-reflective when they’re evaluating their professors. Anyway, I very predictably perseverated on those comments for the rest of the day.

Which meant I didn’t really get much sleep last night. My brain decided that bedtime would be a great time to work really hard on this question: “If I let go of the defensiveness I’m feeling, is there anything I can take from the critical student feedback that would actually improve my class? How could I make the research project work better?” And in news that is both good for my future students and bad for my hope of kicking this bad habit of ruminating instead of sleeping, I think I actually *did* come up with some good ideas. Dammit! My brain is getting rewarded for pulling its usual bullshit!

So anyway, that’s what I’ve been working on all morning in my foggy-brained, sleep deprived state. And I do think I now have a workable schedule that “front-loads” work for the research project even more clearly; there was a kind of “lull” in the middle of my class, in terms of formal assignments, and I think it helps to spread things out a bit more instead. We’ll see how it actually goes, but I’m hopeful. Now I just have to…do literally everything else that’s involved in setting up that class (updating assignment prompts, getting everything posted to Blackboard and Google Drive, possibly updating/re-recording a couple of video mini-lessons, etc), plus the same work for my other 3 classes. And I need to finalize plans with the faculty I do workshop support for. And I need to get all of this figured out and set up in like, the next few days. Whee!

But hey, this is ostensibly a knitting blog, so why don’t I take a little break from work and talk about some knitting while I eat my lunch? Since finishing Pressed Flowers, I picked my Birch pullover back up for the first time since July and started working on it again. Y’all, half-fisherman’s rib in the round in fingering weight on size 2 needles is Really. Freaking. Tedious.

Half-fisherman's rib in fingering weight on size 2 needles. It's...tedious.

Every one of those “Vs” that looks like a regular knit stitch actually represents two rounds of knitting: one round of purling every single stitch, and then a round of what feels like 1×1 rib, just knitting into the stitch below in the knit columns (so that the purl bump ends up “wrapping” the knit stitch, in the same way that YOs do in brioche knitting). I’m not the world’s biggest fan of purling OR of 1×1 rib, it turns out. I can get into a bit of a rhythm with it, but it’s really hard to see any sign of progress.

Birch Progress

I have made some progress, though, because I’m pretty sure that when I last worked on Birch, I’d knit about 3 inches of the body after the underarms. And now, after working on Birch in the evenings ever since binding off Pressed Flowers on December 30th, I have…

5" (of the 10" of half-fisherman's rib I'm knitting for the body)

…a whopping 5 inches of the body! The pattern calls for 10″ of half-fisherman’s rib in the body before the hemline, so I guess one way to frame it is that I’m already halfway there! But right now I’m feeling more like: how on earth am I only halfway there? How have all of those evenings only added up to 2″ of knitting?

We’ll see if I can sustain my interest in this sweater; it IS good to have a project that is basically mindless right now, because my mind is just so scattered. But I also feel like I need a little more of that dopamine boost that comes from noticeable progress towards a goal. As I said in my last post, the last few years have sucked so much of the joy out of my work life; it’s not that I don’t still love my students fiercely, and I still cannot imagine a job I’d be better or would rather do…but it doesn’t feel as rewarding as it used to, in the Before Times. Those dopamine bursts that come from feeling like I’m doing a good job (and from hearing that from someone other than myself) are few and far between these days. Where to find that joy I’m seeking this year?


2 thoughts on “one week until Spring Semester”

  1. TBH, this language nerd would be very into taking a class with you on AI, chat production, human language production, and writing. The intersection of all those things sounds straight-up fascinating.

    1. It *is* so fascinating! I’m going to see how much I can fold into my classes this semester, and then hopefully I can do even more in the Fall!

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