Monday, March 31, 2008

Learning on the Job

Because of the number of years I've been tutoring, new experiences are rare in the sense that yes, I still get occasional problems that I encounter, but between my experience in tutoring and in teaching I rarely don't know how to react. But last week I had an experience that left me unsure as to how to correct the issue.

I've developed a good rapport with one particular student last semester who I've been working with fairly closely this semester, too. He's a genuinely nice kid, and I like him; and he likes me too, to the extent that he won't work with anyone else. I've seen a lot of his work by this point, but until last week I realized I only really saw it when it was in need of extensive revision (which, after all, is why I'm here to help in the Writing Center), or when it was a lot more polished, needing some (for lack of a better word) editing, or a last pair of eyes to catch any mistakes left untended. For a number of reasons, some drafts I don't see in the final stages, just like some drafts I don't see in the very rough stage. We only meet for one hour once a week, for starters - one can only cover so much work in that time. I never really questioned this disparity between rough draft and polished draft because I presume that professors read and respond to a number of drafts that because of our lack of time I don't see; I also presume that sometimes other people (friends, classmates, etc.) take a look at my students' papers. 

Last week was the first time I've ever encountered a professor unhappy with a student's work, and who came directly to see me because of it. The student with whom I've been working had apparently been found guilty of plagiarizing. The tip-off came when the professor recognized the student's shift in voice, being more familiar and aware that the student could not have written what he did; his prose was too well-formed for an ESL student. The professor (who had apparently come looking for me this morning and came back when my shift started) told me that she was able to detect that this wasn't the student's writing; she Googled various phrases and detected, fairly easily, apparently, the sources of the student's copying - and then opined that I must not have been working with him for a long enough time to catch the obviousness of such a feat.

That is not a good thing to insinuate.

But the part that did actually irk me a tad, aside from her not having gone to the director or assistant director in conjunction with coming to me - was that this was the second time she had had him plagiarizing by Googling his paper online, the consequences of which were to fail him for that specific paper, and to give him a warning. It would have been at after that point I wished she had come to see me. Because I couldn't remember how in depth we went through this second paper, she didn't fail him for the entire class, but this was the experience that really freaked out the student, who looked suitably upset and worried and a million other bad things during our session this afternoon. I don't think he meant to plagiarize; or rather, I don't think he really understood the consequences of it. This certainly drove the point home, though.

This experience has really caused me to step back, evaluate my tutoring style, and then go on to re-evaluate and analyze it. A few things I need to think about:
  • How do you detect a shift in the writer's voice? I want to see specific examples. My own writing shifts throughout each paper.
  • In which ways can a tutor detect plagiarism? What strategies can be implemented aside from the obvious (in mid-paper, student's previously flawed writing becomes, well, flawless, etc.)


School's been going through a bit of a lull the past week or two, since about Spring Break. I've been feeling fairly productive in terms of homework, but I'm in danger of slipping a bit again. Starting next week, there are only five weeks left of the semester.

Upcoming work:
  • ENG 520: various drafts of various essays due at various points during the remainder of the semester; there are three papers left, one of which I've already drafted, but will need to be completed; and various journal entries to be caught up on, as well as the weekly journal entries for the remainder of the semester.
  • ENG 580: research abstract (due today); a bibliography (due next week but I already have it done); rough draft (due in three weeks); final paper and presentation (due last class).
  • ENG 620: leading a class discussion on Freire at the end of April; 10-page paper of indeterminate subject due at the end of the semester.
  • ENG 700: Another presentation and corresponding paper;  practice exercise; and a revised syllabus due at the last class.
Conclusion: Either I know exactly what's due when, or I need to have copies of syllabi in front of me to remind me of due dates.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter Vigil

Tonight I went to the Easter Vigil, a 2 ½ - 2 ¾ hour ceremony. Some highlights:

• Since this is a special vigil Mass, it started out in complete darkness; all the lights were off. A fire was lit in the middle of the church (traditionally it’s lit outside the church, if possible), then blessed by one of the priests or deacons; the fire is used to light the Paschal Candle, which is then used to distribute the holy flame to those in the congregation (who have been given candles). With the church’s electric lights all turned off, the lit candles bathe the church, and it’s a really pretty sight – everything is lit by flickering candles.

• The choir was singing tonight. It’s a smallish choir, maybe only 25 people when everyone is there, but we have some good singers, and tonight we also had two trumpeters and a timpanist. I’m telling you, everything sounds fabulous with trumpets and timpani.

• There was a mentally handicapped woman in the pew in front of me, and after the choir had sung near the beginning of Mass she just started clapping, but one of her family members stopped her right away. I’m a bit sorry she was stopped; I want to clap after the choir sings too but I don’t have the nerve. And they consistently do such a beautiful job.

• There were a lot of readings tonight (from the Books of Genesis, Exodus, and Isaiah; from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans; and the Gospel). Two of the readings were a combination of reading and singing, which made them dramatic, and a practice I have not encountered at any other Catholic Church.

• Because this is when the RCIA folks are brought into full communion with the church, several candidates were baptized and/or confirmed. When the candidates were receiving their sacraments, their family members all whipped out their cameras and were also trying to get good pictures, but trying not to get too close so Father Peter could do his thing. It was entertaining seeing a large group of people trying to be both reverent and wanting to commemorate the occasion.

• One of the candidates for RCIA had a little boy who tried to follow his dad up to the sanctuary but was led back to his pew. He got away again, though, and his dad just smiled and picked him up, and when Father Peter got to the candidate, his sponsor, and his son, he just smiled and went on as if this were perfectly normal.

• The choir sang the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s “Messiah.” Most of the congregation were filing out but quite a few people stayed, and I was glad to see people stay to cheer.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Holy Friday

(I'm never quite sure what to call Holy Friday; calling it Good Friday seems counterintuitive.) In any case, this afternoon I went to Holy Friday Mass - another longish service that featured the Veneration of the Cross. There was Confession after Mass, but the crowds were a bit chaotic, so I made a note to go tomorrow morning.

We have some very good singers at church; the two soloists, Viki and Al, who regularly lead the singing during Masses are especially good. Today we got Viki, who sang Andrew Lloyd Weber's "Pie Jesu," which was so well-sung that it made my cry. In church. Of course, once again, inexplicably I was somewhat emotional, which is not a behavior that generally applies to me, in church or elsewhere. For some reason, this Easter season has just wrought havoc on my emotions.

Tonight I attended the special Holy Friday service; the choir was performing DuBois' "The Seven Last Words," a Lenten cantata. The singing was beautiful, but at this point in the evening (which wasn't all that late), I feel like I've been at church constantly and only stayed about half an hour - enough to get through two of the seven "words."

Tomorrow evening is the Easter Candlelight Vigil, which I'll make sure to get to.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Holy Thursday

Today is Holy Thursday, the first day of the Easter Triduum. St. Barnabas has some really nice services lined up, and I try to get to many of them since they're so nicely done. Tonight's Mass was long - 90 minutes, at least, but each of our priests were there, as were our two deacons, and several altar servers; there was the traditional pedilavium (the washing of the feet); and apparently this morning over at St. Agnes Cathedral was the blessing and distribution of all the holy oils (of catechumens, of the sick, and of confirmation ) needed for the upcoming year. After Mass we wended out way down to the Holy Family Chapel for Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament (Night Vespers was something I was going to go to tonight - I like going - but I also know I'll be going to so many Masses and religious functions this weekend).

For some reason, tonight during Mass I just got really emotional - I'm not sure I can remember being so happy and sad at the same time. I felt lonely, and wished I could share church with. It would be easy, in a sense, to just give up my religion because I don't really have anyone else to share it with, nor does it get taken seriously by most people I know, but I don't think that's quite the answer either. I felt the urge to make an appointment with one of the priests to try to determine how I can really get involved even more than I am (with my weird schedule).

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Extraneous Tutoring

One of my part-time jobs is that of a homebound tutor, working for a company that provides certified teachers to students who are homebound across Long Island. These students are homebound for a variety of reasons - illness, suspension, etc. - but they've been pretty much nice kids; I haven't had any that have refused to work or have been unpleasant. The biggest problem is that these students, all of whom have been in high school (although I think that's mostly been by chance) have been a bit flaky. I recently asked that one student be reassigned because I was so busy with school and other work obligations that my schoolwork was suffering, which is no good. A second student, I discovered today, was back at school as of last week (last week I didn't tutor her because I was sick). This leaves me with one student, who is out due to suspension, one that was actually prolonged due to a separate incident. He's a very nice kid, and I like him; and he's fairly bright, too, but more than the other students I've had, he's simply not doing his work. I realize that much of this has to do with his age, and the fact that many (most?) kids his age have poor impulse control and an inability to consider the consequences, but aside from rarely doing the work I assign him, he consistently shows up 15 or more minutes late. (He lives about three blocks from the library, where we hold our tutoring sessions.)

I've had multiple conversations with his parents about his lateness, his not doing his homework, and the other problems we've encountered, but so far things have just not been getting through. This afternoon he was about 45 minutes late, and had I not called him to ask where he was, might not have discovered that he was going to stop off at his high school before coming to the library. He's a genuinely nice kid, and I do like him, but I think it's time for some of what they call "tough love."

The other students I'd tutored for more than a session or two also seemed to have a problem with self-discipline and not doing their homework independently - they seem to need someone else literally sitting there next to them and talking them through all their work while they do it. And from what I can tell, the parents aren't doing that, either. I suggested that tactic last week to my now lone student's stepmother; this failed, though, when the student told her that he wanted to do the work alone. I think my student is going to discover today that he's got a lot of reading to take care of, and I'm actually sitting here making sure that he does it. He's also double-booked himself - his other tutor is coming in half an hour so we'll not have had enough to time actually begin our research.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Being Called A Writer

I was attending another Writing Center staff meeting this afternoon, and Patricia was making a point about the writing process, and in the middle of her point, called us "writers." And for some reason, this really gave me pause. A professor in another class called us writers, too, and that had also made me stop for a few minutes to think about this, because I don't really consider myself a writer. (I have a hard enough time calling myself a teacher, considering I'm not actually teaching. At least, though, according to the state of New York, I'm a teacher. I don't consider myself a writer just because I do some writing for my classes and help other students with their writing. I realize it's meant to be an empowering thing, but I can't make myself think of myself as a writer, by any stretch. I think one has to spend a lot more time writing, or thinking of writing, than I do - even though I think about writing a lot, but I think about writing as it relates to teaching people how to do it. And writing papers for classes doesn't quite make me a writer, either; if it did, I'd also have to consider myself a mathematician because I took a math class, or a chemist because I took a chemistry class.

I kinda like being called a writer, though.

Monday, March 10, 2008

SIgma Tau Delta '08 - Louisville Wrap Up

Let's recap, shall we?

The bad:
  • It snowed.
  • One of us (you know who you are) got drunk and made dinner not so much with the fun.
  • I was sick the entire trip. Apparently I got a sinus infection, and those aren't good to have when you fly, so today I was even sicker.
  • I didn't get to go see the Thomas Edison House.
  • My purse was searched at the airport because of one of my keychains being a potentially scary object.
  • I did not get any KFC.
  • My flight was delayed for two hours - we finally departed when we should have been arriving in New York, which meant I didn't get home until after midnight.
The good:
  • My traveling companions were nice people who had good senses of humor,  and who were able to do things independently (and did so), but were also totally willing to hang out.
  • I got to go on a tour of the Louisville Slugger Museum.
  • One of the nice front desk ladies offered us free "pop" when we checked in. That alone made my trip.
  • The snow stopped by early Saturday afternoon, the sun came out, and the roads cleared up (although some of the sidewalks weren't).
  • The people in Kentucky are freakishly nice. People nearly constantly and regularly greeted me (and us) and were quite chatty - on the street; in stores; wherever. And they laughed at all my jokes.
  • Temporary roommate Nikki didn't complain about my alleged snoring. In fact, she said nothing about it, which means either she was being really nice about it, or something. And two nights of the three I had the hotel room entirely to myself.
  • I bought three new books at Borders: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid; Rashi's Daughers, Book II: Miriam; and Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

SIgma Tau Delta '08 - Louisville, Day 3

The snow that we thought was going to last all day and give us 10-14 inches of snow stopped just after noon and gave us perhaps 2 inches of snow. This would have been a let down if we all didn't want to go home, but the sun came out, snow melted, and aside from a slightly dangerous walk back from dinner tonight, the weather's change was happily dramatic. After the weather cleared up, and the sun came out and melted much of the snow, I took a walk down to Fourth Street Live, but there wasn't as much there as I remembered there being, or hoped there would be. Since I was close to finishing my book, I bought a few others before meandering home.

I've been up since about 6:45 this morning (it's what happens when you're asleep by 10:30 the night before), which Chris will tell you must mean that something is wrong. I'm still infected with whatever infection I have, but I've been coughing up some lovely stuff all weekend, and my throat occasionally decides to not hurt as much, but I may have to go see Student Health Services on Monday, if this keeps up.

Tomorrow's going to be a bit of a lost day; we have to check out by noon, but we'll need to store our luggage for a couple of hours before our flight, so I'm not sure what we'll do in the meantime. Tonight was the Awards Banquet, but we were a bit late in showing up; there didn't seem to be a place for us to sit and it seems the ceremonies had already started, so we went to the hotel restaurant, Blu, instead. And it was actually really excellent; good food, slightly more formal atmosphere, without being stiff or pretentious. I splurged a bit: Seafood risotto, which came with some very tasty mussels, and some very impressive shrimp, some lobster, and a very large scallop. I had Italian wedding cake for dessert, which was also just amazing. A good evening, indeed.

Friday, March 7, 2008

SIgma Tau Delta '08 - Louisville, Day 2

This is turning into the snow storm that wasn't; predictions for a massive snow storm that was meant to give us over 10 inches of snow has so far left us with less than one, although it has been snowing since before I woke up this morning.

But most of the day we spent inside, anyway; it was our day of sessions. Nikki had apparently just spent the night crashed in the guys' room last night; after we parted ways at the Louisville Slugger Museum, the rest of the crew went back to the hotel, watched a movie, went out for dinner (which they had called me about, but I just wanted to stay at the hotel), and then just came back to the hotel and fell asleep. As such, I went to my morning session alone, came back to the hotel and dried off, and met everyone back at the conference site for our session-a-thon: Three sessions in a row, but everyone did really well. Kuang especially was really tired after all this, but we managed to find the shopping center a block away and have dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. (Is Louisville known for anything - does it have any sort of famous food? I forgot to check before the trip.) The evening fell apart a bit during dinner, and I think we were all relieved to be back in our respective hotel rooms. Nikki's already conked out, and I'm feeling a bit anti-social myself. My throat feels very swollen, it really hurts, and I'm having trouble swallowing and even talking is not a good idea right now. I brought one book with me, but I wish I'd brought another as a backup.

SIgma Tau Delta '08 - Louisville, Day 1

My first night in Louisville has rendered me unscathed. The tale so far:

Aside from having woken up several times before getting ready for my early morning flight (rendering me showered, dressed, and packed by 5:15 this morning), it's been a good morning so far (at least, aside from being awake so early and having a sore throat). I discovered I could reserve a cab to the airport online, and even better the driver showed up pretty much on time, negating any worry I had about my reservation being lost (I'd been given the message that he could show up anywhere from 20 minutes early to 20 minutes late, which is a long time to sit around in the early morning). I got the airport just after 7 a.m. - the drive to the airport went just fine - so I had 2 hours to kill before the flight. I got a smoothie, futzed around, and eventually the rest of the conference crew arrived - Nikki, Kuang, and Georgiy. We ran into no problems until we got to the hotel, at which point we discovered that the other conference participant, who'd arrived a day earlier, had neglected to give the hotel my name or Nikki's, so we were temporarily without a room, until faculty sponsor Vidhya called the hotel and straightened out everything. (I really don't know what's with the other conference participant. She never showed up or even RSVPd to our practice meeting that Vidhya had scheduled for last Sunday; she double-booked herself for a conference, then asked me through Vidhya if I would read her paper for her - which she then never got to me; and then the hotel fiasco, such as it was.)

Once we settled in, we hiked on over Louisville Slugger Museum, even though I was the only one who went on the tour through the factory, which was pretty cool. (I love the smell of sawdust, and I like seeing how people do all that carpentry stuff, even if a lot of it is machine-based.) Aside from seeing Nikki for about 5 minutes later that evening, I never did anyone else for the rest of the day. I'm off to my session this morning and I am disinclined to chase after anyone to wake them up - presumably they're passed out in the guys' room - to drag them to an earlyish (9:30 a.m.) session. Am a bit relieved and slightly irritated about it, but more relieved at this point. 

Sunday, March 2, 2008


What's been new, in short (but no particular) order:
  • My NEWCA proposal was accepted about a week ago, which means I'll be going to the University of Vermont in mid-April. I missed last year's conference, both physically and mentally; I've begun getting to know the people who run it and are in regular attendance, and I was unhappy at not being able to go (nor did I even submit a proposal; I was too busy with student teaching to throw one together). Nevertheless, I'll be going this year with another grad student or two. I've also thrown my metaphorical hat into the ring for the NEWCA Steering Committee and may become involved in that capacity.
  • Last night I went out to dinner with Harry (whom I haven't seen in months and whom I've really missed), Courtney, and fellow tutors Sri, Jon, and Kristen. I had the most excellent time; I'm actually still a bit sad that the evening is over.
  • Tonight I met with Vidhya - the LIU professor who's the chapter sponsor of the English Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta, of which I'm a member - and a few other student members. (Our chapter is Omicron Zeta. I wish I knew what all these Greek letters are; the chapter I helped start at Stony Brook University is Alpha Nu Zeta, and I keep mixing them up.) The conference is next week - it's being held in Louisville - and while I'm chairing two sessions, four of our students are presenting papers. Two of the presenters didn't come, but the other two who were able to make it were able to show up (as well as two other members), and Vidhya made dinner, and I brought the cookies I baked, and lo, bonding was bad.
  • On my way back to Bellmore tonight, as I got off the train in Jamaica and was walking around waiting for my connecting train, I heard my  name called. I looked around, and saw my friend Will (a fellow tutor from my Stony Brook University Writing Center days), whom I haven't seen probably in over a year. It was extremely random, and we had a few minutes of catching up before his train came. It reminded me that I really like him and that I need to remember to hang out with him once in a while.