Tuesday, November 28, 2006

on the teaching front

Second set of papers were graded as of midnight last night. They did a bit better overall, but that's to be expected as the second assignment is both much shorter and a summary of their first paper.

The student who emailed me the day the papers were due has proven herself slowly but surely. I responded to her email with a) a mini-lecture about student responsibilities, and b) assurance that if she truly wanted to work hard for this course, I'd be there to help her with anything she didn't understand. So far, she's come through and worked her little butt off. I'm impressed.I

have another student who hasn't turned in either of the two assignments so far, and he's said nothing to me via email or in person. I just emailed him that he needs to have them in asap if he wants to pass the class. I do NOT give 'incomplete' final grades and allow students to work on their assignments once the semester is over -- not without seriously extenuating circumstances. I will give a student a failing grade if they fail to even turn in their work.

on the dissertation front

I did not work on the diss at all over the thanksgiving break -- it was one long week of doc appointments and house cleaning and laundry...and exhaustion.

At least, I didn't work on it physically. I often do work in my head, until it becomes so involved that I just have to put it down on paper. That's where I've been the last week -- working on the new outline and deciding on how to spin the slightly new direction. And it's become so big that I need to put it on paper.

So that's my goal this week:

1. to get the outline in print
2. to re-write the parts of the lit review that the committee member said needs to be 'my voice.'
3. to jot down notes for each section of the new outline stating what I think 'belongs' in that section for the paper to flow, and to follow the cm's feedback.

I'll turn that over to the cm for her approval before doing any additional work. From there, I'll expand the lit review as needed within the new outline and her feedback. And over Christmas break, I'll make the changes the chair wanted me to make in the methodology section, and then I should have a final, defensible product.

I seriously need to defend the proposal by the end of January, and have the final defense the end of May, because:I

just got a call from the university I applied to recently, and based on my cv and cover letter, they moved me on to the second round. Once they've interviewed my references, I will hopefully move to the interview round. They want to start the new positions next summer, and the person I spoke with let me know that they absolutely will not hire someone without diploma in-hand, no matter how close to defense I am. Therein the incentive to speed this up as much as possible.

Still crossing my fingers. Very afraid of bombing the interview. My teaching experience is limited to two specific courses, so if they ask about theory etc. out of that realm, I may be dead in the water. I've pretty much forgotten everything from coursework and comps.

Monday, November 27, 2006

things are not good all over, and a repost of a blog challenge from last year

I'm signed on to an email list with the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, DC, and I received this in the mail yesterday:

AS HOLIDAYS APPROACH, DATA SHOW HIGH RATES OF HARDSHIP FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS AND LATINOS
by Arloc Sherman

A new Center analysis of data on hardships faced by American families — based on an annual survey the Administration plans to eliminate this fiscal year — shows that between one-fourth and one-third of all African American and Latino citizen families experience difficulty affording food, lack needed medical care, and/or live in overcrowded conditions.

Twenty-eight percent of African American families with children, and 31 percent of families headed by a Latino citizen, experience at least one of the above three hardships at some point during the year, according to the survey. This is double the rate for non-Latino white families with children (14 percent). This disparity largely reflects the fact that poverty rates are several times higher for African American and Latino families than for white families.

Press Release:
http://www.cbpp.org/11-21-06pov-pr.htm
http://www.cbpp.org/11-21-06pov-pr.pdf 1pp.

Full Analysis:
http://www.cbpp.org/11-21-06pov.htm
http://www.cbpp.org/11-21-06pov.pdf 6pp.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I remember a year ago, when things were going so horribly for me, that I had to pull myself out of myself and focus on the world around me.

One of the things I did (I was still blogging on the other site then) was to challenge everyone who read my post to do something for someone else. Something, anything, however big or small the action.

Well, I figure this is a bigger blogland than where I was a year ago, and I get more visitors overall than I did there. So, this should catch on quite nicely, right?

Let's call it the "Do Something for Someone" challenge.

Will you do something for someone?


And pass the word along to your readers?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

no more sleeping on the floor

Wooo hooo! My bed arrived yesterday morning, bright and early. It's definitely bottom of the line, nothing thick and plush, but it's good enough for me. I'll probably add on a topper at some point in the future. It's too big to get a shot of the whole bed in the confines of my room, but here's one view:




The 'headboard' is an inexpensive asian screen that is designed to show candle light through the plastic panels. I mounted it to the wall with clear plastic mounts (the kind used for mirrors). I just need to find a way to permanently attached glass candle holders so that I don't have to worry about bumping the screen and a candle falling onto the bed.

Here's a view straight on:



It'll take some getting used to, after 16 years with the old bed. And I need to get a set of satin sheets as soon as possible. I prefer the smoothness of satin to even the 400 thread count egyptian cotton sheets I have. But both sets of sheets are for a queen, not a king.

The two small pillows on the bed: the green one came from Ybor City in Tampa during a trip there a few years ago; the maroon one came from Tijuana, Mexico, during a trip to Los Angeles a year and a half ago (we drove down to MX).

As long as I was taking photos, I took this one, too:



Yep, the shoes I'm always talking about, along with handbags and boots. And, I did go back and get the red ones:



And a pair of boots, too:



Yes, they were BOGO!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

looking forward

And now I have the edits from my chair as well. Hers are much more focused on the methodology, as she's a research/stats prof. My second member is more theory oriented and so her feedback is focused there.

I decided to set up a meeting with the second chair to go over her stuff. I meet with her next Tuesday.

I can't really find the time for work on this right now. I have student papers due soon, and I'll be reading and correcting for a bit. My five day Thanksgiving break just became a proposal writing marathon date.

more thoughts about advanced standing

And about those 6 advanced standing students who withdrew from my class. Because now it all makes perfect sense.

Our program (not offered by all MSW programs) offers advanced standing to any incoming student who has a BSW degree. This means that the student does not need to take the first (foundation) year of master's courses. The students start in the second (advanced) year of courses instead.

Concerns:

1. This assumes that the courses taught at the bachelor's level are the same as those taught at the first year master's level in terms of content and academic rigor.

2. This assumes that all BSW degrees are equally academically rigorous.

3. This assumes that the BSW degree adequately prepares the student for the rigors of the second year of graduate school.

The problem is, how can we really make those assumptions, especially knowing what we know about undergraduate programs? We all know about the disparity in education and learning among undergraduate programs. And I don't believe that the coursework in most BSW programs is equivalent to the MSW foundation courses in content and rigor. The only way to ensure that the students have that knowledge is to test incoming students, and provide them with advanced standing if they can pass the exams.

Certainly, the BSW courses do not prepare the students for the rigor of a second year master's program. And when those students do not have the benefit of the foundation year courses, then they are not prepared for advanced coursework expectations. They come into class all cocky because they are 'advanced standing,' and therefore know it all. And when they discover the extent of the program's and professor's expectations, the students literally fall apart emotionally. And then they blame the professor and want us to fix the situation, because after all, they've always been 'A' students. 'A' students in an undergraduate program perhaps, but not in a graduate program. Graduate school is a whole different ballgame -- one they've never played and don't understand.

The foundation year is the student's preparation for the advanced year. When they are not required to take the foundation year courses (some of which are prerequisites to advanced year courses), we do our students a grave disservice.

I have students who don't even understand what APA style is. They write entire papers without citing any sources, assuming that listing the sources on the reference page is sufficient. They overuse direct quotes, rather than trusting themselves to adequately summarize what they read. And they make basic writing and grammatical errors that are taught in junior high. I even provide them with a grammar guide from my rugrat's junior high days, and a summary of APA style citations/references, and they clearly haven't made use of either guide.

I believe that those six students who left the class found themselves in over their heads. They weren't prepared for the work and the level of expectations. They wanted out, but it was too late to drop a course. They didn't want to lose the tuition paid for the course, so they went to the AD and made it my fault. I wasn't allowed to respond to their verbal attack -- they were simply allowed to withdraw and take another course another semester.

It seems as though I'm grumping a lot about teaching this semester. I've always had normal teaching grumps, but this semester has been nearly completely disheartening. The saving grace has been the select few students who have worked hard and done well -- those who have taken responsibility for their learning. And those who have done the best aren't in fact the advanced standing students; they are the students who completed the foundation year courses -- which says it all, in my humble opinion.

imagine, if you will

A fully dilated pupil, a flash digital camera, and blinding white light.

Searing pain, as that light hits your unprotected retina.

Over and over and over again.

Then being told to sit back and rest your eyes.

Opening your eyes, and seeing the world through a purple tinge.

The poke of the needle on the back of your hand.

Then more flashes, blue light this time, as the camera records the dye entering the vessels at the back of your eyes.

Forcing your eyes to open wide into the light, knowing the intense pain to come.

Flash after flash, you begin to anticipate the pain and blink too soon.

Thankfully, it is eventually over.

For a moment, you can see nothing but a white aura.

Then it clears, and you see the world blurred and through a yellow haze, courtesy of the dye.

Don't forget the brown and purple bruise on the back of your hand from the needle.

The tenderness of the bruise, as your hand brushes against objects.

That's a fluorescein angiogram.

For anyone who didn't know.

Monday, November 13, 2006

did I ever tell ya 'bout the time...

I went to court for a writing a bad check? Yeah, horrible ol' me, passing bad checks,right?

It was a long time ago, and I don't know what brought it to my mind just now, but here it is.

I was 19, a new mom, rugrat one being all of about 8 months old. I was struggling with minimum wage, trying to take a course or two at the community college. It was before I found out I was eligible for food stamps. I was hungry, and damned if I didn't write a check at the grocery store. And I did it knowing full well that I didn't have the money in the bank to cover it.

I wasn't worried when I wrote it. It wasn't the first time, after all. The stores would just turn you over to a collection agency, and you could make small payments each month 'til the debt was paid. This was before the whole quick check credit thing, so grocery stores never knew if you'd written a bad one somewhere else.

But for some reason, this particular store had a different policy than others. They gave you a week to pay up (yeah, like I'd have written the check in the first place if I knew I'd have money in a week), and then they turned you over to the courts. Yep, sent your bad check right on over to the court, who would send you a summons to appear. If you didn't appear, the notice said, they'd issue a warrant for your arrest.

So, I didn't know what to do, so I showed up. I had rugrat with me, since I did't have, and couldn't have afforded, a babysitter. Luckily, the court was right after lunch, and he fell asleep laying across my chest, and slept through it all.

The whole time I was there, I was completely terrified. I'd read about people going to jail for passing bad checks, and I had rugrat. What would happen to us? We'd been there about an hour when my case was called. The representative from the store was all official and professional, detailing what was purchased. The fucker.

And then the judge made me stand up and answer a question: Do you deny you owe this debt, he asked. Oh no, judge, I know I owe the money, I responded, my 95 pound body slightly rocking the rugrat to keep him sleeping while I stood and spoke. I just don't have it right now.

And he felt sorry for me. Gave me ample time to pay off the debt in small installments. And got downright snippy with the grocery store person when they tried to give him more paperwork than he needed. I don't need all that, he snipped. It isn't that big a deal, after all. It's just groceries. And by the look of her, she needed them.

welcome back my friends to the show that never ends

And on Saturday morning, the day the paper is due, I have an email in my inbox from a student, with a partial paper attached. The email is long, broken, somewhat incoherent. This student is ill and won't be in class, and she wants to apologize for the incomplete paper she's handing in. She's been confused all semester, and her pride prevented her from asking me for help even though yes, I always made myself availble if anyone needed help. But she was an A student and she had policy as an undergrad but they didn't do papers they did mock trials and yes, she knows it's all her fault, and is it possible for her to pass with the paper she's written, and she just went on forever.

I'm thoroughly disgusted with her and every student that doesn't take the initiative and ask questions if they are confused. Assuming, of course, that they really were confused and not just procrastinating and whining. It is my responsibility to teach, but it's their responsibility to learn. They seem to want to sit back and learn passively, with me shoveling it down their throats. They want to do nothing more than just swallow, and move on.

And what is really bothering me is that these students with the worst problems are defined as 'advanced standing' students. That means that their bachelor's degree was in social work. That's all it takes to get advanced standing, which means the student isn't required to take the foundation (first year) courses, they can move right into the second year advanced courses (my course is a second year course).

This concept is based upon the notion that students take the foundation courses in their last year of a bachelor SW program, so they shouldn't have to take them over again. The problem is, there is a vast difference between taking a course as an undergrad, and taking it as a grad student. Not to mention the concern that not all bachelor's programs are preparing students as adequately as others.

So, these students come in to second year master's courses completely and totally unprepared for graduate work in any way whatsoever. And they flounder and panic and produce work completely unacceptable for second year graduate students. Most students truly need those first year foundation graduate courses to prepare them for the second year advanced courses.

I will no doubt stir up a hornet's nest in my field with my position on this, but I think the 'advanced standing' concept does the students a serious disservice. Unfortunately, the students won't complain, as it gets them through a two year master's program in one year -- less work, less cost. So instead, they will continue to flounder in advanced courses for which they are ill prepared. And as much as I understand and feel for them, I refuse to lower my standards in terms of my expectations of a second year graduate student.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

baby did a bad bad thing...again

They are just going to have to close that Payless shoe store down the street from campus. It's too damned tempting, especially after the freakin' week I've had.

I bought these:



And decided I liked them in this color, too:



They apparently also have it in red, which I love and may have to go back for:



And then found these, which look awesome on:



I really wanted these, too, but didn't think I had enough in the bank. I may have to go back for them, too:



I missed BOGO unfortunately. BOGO, for you non-Payless aficionados, is 'buy one get one half off.'

Sigh. What is it about shoes that makes me feel so good, anyway?

correction

OK, it's not an angiogram like the kind that checks circulation in your whole body.

It's a fluorescein angiogram, in which the dye is injected into your arm (rather than your leg) and goes directly up to the blood vessels in your eyes. Then they use a digital camera to take photos of the eye.

I recall now that the doc mentioned that there seemed to be an abnormality in the vessels in my right eye (not the one with the spot on the retina), which is why she ordered the exam.



Retinal photograph of a patient complaining of decreased vision.


Fluorescein angiogram indicating fluid leakage within the retina

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

i have to laugh, or i'll cry

I just called the hospital to make an appointment for the sleep study. Guess when the next available appointment is. Take one guess.

My appointment is for May 10, 2007, at 1:30. Yep, May of '07. And it's the only center around here that is covered by my insurance.

Here I was thinking that now that I knew this problem was covered by my insurance I could get the help I need. Sure, I'll get the help. In seven freakin' months.

I sure hope I don't have another blackout before then.

Sheesh.

Monday, November 06, 2006

it's a lovely day to gouge out your eyes, my dear

Well, that's what it felt like anyway.

The tests to be done to check for a detached retina required that my eyes be fully dilated. So, I showed up on time at the opthalmologist's only to sit and wait. Three sets of eye drops and nearly two hours later, I was finally examined.

The doc started with the same tests I get every year when I see the doc at costco. First with my chin in that contraption, looking just over her ear, while she peers into my eyes with a microscope. Then with the hand-held bright light right in front of my eye, as she looks inside my pupils. She was downright thorough, and didn't find a tear.

Next, she warned me, she had to press on my eyeballs. It wouldn't be painful exactly, but it would be very uncomfortable. She maneuvered the chair to make the back go down so she could lean over me. She put drops in my eyes to numb my eyeballs. And then I entered hell.

Why do docs always say it won't hurt, it will just be uncomfortable? Maybe they should have any procedure they're going to perform on a patient performed on themselves first.

What she had to do was force open my eyes, shine that bright light into them, and then slide her fingers into the sides of my sockets and press down hard on my eyeball, manipulating it so that she could find any possible tear. And while she was at it, I had to turn my eyeballs to look in whatever direction she said: up and right, down and left, straight up, straight right. After about 20 minutes of this torture, she finally decided there was no tear.

Then she put my chair up and put me back on the microscope machine that I put my chin in -- the one we started with. And she found a white spot on my retina on the left eye -- the one that was causing problems.

Now, this spot could be serious, or it could be caused by high blood sugar, high blood pressure, or something else. So now I get the works in testing as we need to rule out other possibilities. She wrote a note to my gp, who I see on Thursday, and she wants the gp to check my blood pressure and request a blood workup. Great, a blood workup when I've been eating out of control and haven't been to the gym. It'll be a complete turnaround of the one in September.

And I go in next week for an angiogram. And then there's one more test, one that I think takes photos of my retinas.

I had to drive home with my eyes still pretty dilated. Hell, even now, 4 hours later, they are still partially dilated. And blood red, and tender and sore like you wouldn't believe. My vision is blurred, and I'm tired of laying down with my eyes closed to try to recuperate. I may be wearing glasses tomorrow. I'd take a photo if rugrat hadn't absconded with the digital again.

By the way, did you know that wearing contact lenses can cause scar tissue on your corneas? Apparently I have normal scarring on my right cornea, but excessive scarring on my left one, as though the lens I was wearing at some point was too tight. Interesting.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

it's all about the eyes

I've complained about my vision before. Or whined really. It could be worse. It could always be worse.

But here's the story. My eyes were probably 'bad' from birth. It was the advice of my 2nd grade teacher that pushed the egg donor and her second husband to take me to the eye doc. It wasn't covered by insurance, and it was expensive. Turns out even in the 2nd grade, it was pretty bad. I had never known, for example, that when the teacher was writing things on the board, I was supposed to be able to see it.

I could say that my first pair of glasses became my window to the world, that all was as it should be. But it took me some time to get used to being able to see, and figuring out the damned bifocals was a challenge. And the lenses were so thick (no high powered plastic lenses back then) that my nickname at school soon became 'coke bottle.' You remember the old coke bottles, how thick the glass bottom of the bottle was? Yeah.

So, fast forward to today. Minus 10 in the left eye, minus 11.5 in the right. Severe astigmatism. Severe myopia. Reading glasses with my contacts. I hate that I can't see as well with my eyeglasses as I can with my contacts. And I hate that for the last few weeks, my eyes seem to be rejecting my contacts. I'm wearing them less and less, and they irritate my eyes more and more. And over the last couple of years, I've begun to have problems seeing at night, which has made driving a challenge.

And there are the admonitions at every yearly exam. 'You're at extreme risk of a detached retina. If you ever see flashes of light when you shouldn't, or black 'floaters' moving across your eyes, get to an emergency room immediately.'

I'd always scoffed at that. But about two Fridays ago, I began to see those black floaters at the end of the work day, after working in front of the computer screen all day. I panicked, of course, and tried the whole blinking and closing/resting my eyes, getting up to do something else so I could focus on things further away than my computer. But they didn't go away. So I left work a slight bit early, thinking I'd go by the emergency room at the hospital on the way home. But during the drive, it seemed to get a little better, and all I could think about was how stupid I'd feel if I went to the hospital and it was nothing.

So I let it go, and went home, took out my contacts, and took a nap. I figured maybe it was just eye strain from all the computer work. But at some point in the last week, I've also noticed that the vision in my left eye has become worse. Significantly worse. When I close my eyes one at a time, I can still see quite clearly with my right eye, but everything is blurred with my left.

So I went online to learn more about eye things like detached retinas. I also read a bit about astigmatism, and found that people with severe eye curvature like mine can have problems with headaches and sensitivity to light, both of which I deal with regularly. Who knew!?

But I digress. Back to the detached retina. Seems that if the black floaters continue, or get worse, or tend to be followed by a loss of vision, it could be serious. But what exactly is a 'loss of vision'? A complete loss, or a loss like mine? I have no idea.

So, I could call the doc and ask, right? Make an appointment? Problem is, the doc I usually see at Costco has left, and there is someone new there who doesn't know my history. Plus, it would cost. And they are usually optometrists, not opthalmologists (which I need). I have insurance that covers one eye exam and one pair of glasses every 24 months, and I was just there last spring. I don't know if it covers emergency issues like this. I'll have to call the insurance company tomorrow. But I really hate having to see someone new who has no sense of the history of my eyes.

Geez, I hope it's nothing.