Caveat: Venter

Think about all of the things that make your brain itch. These are mine.

Monday, August 22, 2005

New Semester, Old Faces

I suppose some might object to the word "old," but I don't mean in terms of age. I had little hope this semester of seeing any of my English 20 students from the Spring in my English 52 classes. My hope was matchedby reality. Despite this, two students from earlier semesters are in my courses this semster, and because of production delays with the catalog, my name was printed (instead of the usual "Staff" listing we adjuncts know and hate). I suspect, then, that these students actually took these sections because I am teaching them. That is always satisfying.

And then there is tonight. A former student of mine droppped by. He's not taking any classes. Indeed, the courses I am teaching this semester are below the level of the one he already passed with me as his instructor. But he dropped by, and we walked out to the parking lot at a leisurely pace, chatting and catching up. I was pleased that he'd been enjoying doing a little stand-up at The Comedy Store and a few other venues (he took a course our college offers in stand-up comedy). What surprised me was his statement that he believes he was able to do well in the class in part because he had to write in mine. He had not, he said, tended to write things down before.

I always like to hear what my former students are up to. I rarely get spontaneous comments regarding the value of courses. This, as much as anything, is why I teach, though there is no way to ensure such results will follow.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Back To School

By this time tomorrow the first day of the new will have ended. Yep, having just turned my grades in on Thursday, I am heading right back in there.

I was looking at tying the readings closely to the assignments, but I backed off, though that was more because of the stress of summer than anything else. Orwell, in any case, will make a fine example for about everything, and I can always redirect my students with an updated syllabus if I feel the need later.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Deed Is Done

I did it. This blog is now my happy/silly home. If you want the rude or political stuff, go visit my other blog. I'm still tweaking the colors (no, I don't care, on that one, what anyone thinks of the color scheme). The only crossover may come at those times I find myself a little hotunder the collar about education matters. Those posts, despite their potentially inflammatory nature, will remain within the bounds of this blog.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

A Confession

I suspect that what I am about to write is nothing my colleagues around the world have not felt, and I hope my students this summer (or those who know of this blog, anyway) will forgive me for, well, either what I will say here or possibly the truh of it.

This session has not been my best. Don't get me wrong, I believe that my students walk out of my classes far better writers than when they walk in. It's just that I feel as if I was, in some way, ineffective. OK, perhaps ineffective is the wrong word. I was less effective than usual.

I got addicted (yes, I use that term) to teaching in 1989. It was in that year that I first experienced the rush associated with realizing that someone had understood and internalized what I was explaining. I was a community college student and a tutor in the writing lab at Bellevue Community College at the time. Let me explain:

A student was having trouble with a general punctuation test. He had done well with all of the individual tests (commas, semicolons, etc.), but he couldn't put it all together. I used an explanation I have since learned was one that other had pioneered, though I had never had any exposure to: I explained punctuation as traffic signs. The student understood and scored well over basic mastery levels on the next exam, simply with that.

It wasn't that he got 90-something percent on his test that got me. I expected that, despite his five earlier sub-80 performances. It was that I had seen what I chose at the time to call (andlater learned many others called) "the lightbulb moment." When I gave my traffic sign analogy, something changed. To this day, I could not tell anyone what told me he understood, but I knew it. I knew that he understood and would pass. Something—quite probably it was a mixture of signals too subtle for me to express—told me that he understood. I was hooked. I had moved from reciting information a student could get from a handbook to teaching information in a way that was best for that one person.

Only a month or two later my decision to teach was cemented. A student who had written about her experiences growing up in Cambodia under Pol Pot's Khemer Rouge regime rushed up to me near the theatre building and gushed her thanks. She had received a 3.7 (A-) on her paper,and somehow she attributed that to me. Her paper had been stunning from the first sentence, and my assistance was marginal at best. Still, she was standing there, beaming with pride, and crediting me for her success. I suppose she may have received only a 3.3 without someone's help, but there was something to that. Someone appreciated what I had done. More, someone had appreciated something I was able to do (and could get paid to do). She vanished before I could even tell her that I had done, essentially, nothing and that she had written a compelling personal experience paper. How could I not want to dedicate my life to such an endeavor?

But this summer I feel as if I missed something. True, most of my students are doing acceptably well, and some are even doing better than I initially thought was possible. There are tragedies, to be sure, but there are always tragedies, and such matters are really more relative than absolute (is a B performance from an A student a tragedy?). I just feel as if we spent more time on Y than X. Maybe I feel this way because I have traditionally spent more time on X than Y. Maybe, though, X is more important. Maybe this is how the class should have gone, and everything else was just years of getting me here.

I wish I knew how this all fit together. Other instructors tell me that I do my job well, based on what my former students say and how they perform. Even my students will tell me I do my job well. I guess I just wish I had done it better than it feels I did this summer.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

BS From Every Side

It seems that a lawyer and future Republican candidate for the Illinois governorship, thinks Microsoft's Windows operating system is so bad, the company should be legally barred from selling it unless the operating systems come with a full warranty against security flaws.

Get real. No OS is 100% secure, nor will one ever be. While I expect I will never have a reason to buy Windows, unless it is part of an emulation package, I can't see where Andy Martin is getting his ideas. He claims that MS pushes a shoddier product onto the market than any other company in the U.S. could, but whether or not that is true, suing to block the release of the next generation of Windows is assinine.

Now, I did say "from every side," so let me quote here the MS response, as it appears in the above linked article:

Building confidence and trust in computing continues to be one of Microsoft's top priorities and is crucial to the success of the technology industry as a whole. Over the past three years, Microsoft has implemented a range of new security programs, including the Security Development Lifecycle, which has resulted in measurable improvements in the security of Microsoft's software."

Huh? That's a response? That's a promo for a program with more glittering generality than apparent substance to its name. That's a 15-second spot on a third-rate cable network, and one that is only to be aired between 2 and 5 a.m., along with infomercials and Hardy Boys rerun.

I'll keep my eyes on this case, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it will (rightly, in my view) get thrown out. Somehow, though, I don't think that winning the case is what Martin and The Committee to Fight Microsoft are all about on this point.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Two Of Me

I originally set up Caveat: Venter as a place to unburden myself of the little things. It has morphed into a sometimes too contentious place. I enjoy sparring over issues, especially when I know I can sit down and have a beer with my adversaries. Indeed, my primary "enemy combatant" and I met in grad school as he was reading a flame war I had joined with a Chinese national at our university, so I can hardly be surprised that my friend would challenge me here (or that he and I would revel in it).

What has happened, however, has been a shift in focus. My content has moved to these issues and away from the original purpose. I find myself fighting to defend the soul of Caveat: Venter more than spend energy on building its body (of posts). I feel a little guilty, therefore, about taking what was a genial, sometimes jovial, blog and allowing it to become a place for long rows that draw my focus to comments instead of posts.

The best solution I can find is to create a new blog in which I can take the serious issues (Bolton, SCotUS, terrorism, etc.) and return to the the venting here about my life and work. I haven't yet decided on a name, but I am certain, now, that I need to do this. Actually, if we could work out the technical side of things, I'd be willing to do a side-by-side single-page blog in conjunction with Anton (it really comes down to how much we could tweak the CSS of each post). It could be Crossfire, only without the bowties and cameras.

Left Field Seems Popular

I remain puzzled by a trend, and I think it is time I make a quick note at this level. For some reason, readers seem to wander into deep left when commenting here. This is not always true, but if you read the exchange of comments attached to the post just prior to this one, you may, as I have, wonder how the heck it got from a silly little joke about stalled OS development to the comment that reads, "Main point --> Microsoft Sucks."

I entreat you who may read these posts to stay on topic, or at least reasonably close. Prior to that comment, nothing I had written in the post or a comment had consituted either an implicit or explicit value judgement between the two operating systems or the companies that make them.

Fair warning, however: future flame bait (defined locally as those that are both inflammatory and clearly off the topic of the specific post to which they are attached) will get round-filed. I will not post any replies to them, and any third-party replies to such comments will also get nuked.

I'm tired of going around with people when there is nothing to be had but senseless wrangling on side issues.