Thursday, September 28, 2006

Teacher rant

Today my students had their first assignment due. It was a relatively easy assignment, worth only 4% of their grade. (I didn't decide this, the coordinator for our department decides how many assignments there are and what they are worth.)

At the end of class, I asked for the assignments. After most of them were handed in and the students had left, I saw these three guys huddled at the back of the room - two of them blocking the desk of one student who was sitting down, madly writing.

I recognized the scenario. I've seen it before.

I walked back, picked up the paper the student was scribbling on, and the one he was copying from.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"Just checking my answers." He stammered.

"Looks like you're copying to me." I could feel the colour in my face rising.

"No... look. I filled in the answer, but it was wrong. I was just checking it against his."

I looked. It was true. The assignment was done, crossed out and written over.

"It's still copying. I'm not marking that section."

"Aw, c'mon!" He said.

"You're copying. I'll mark the rest of the assignment, but not that section.... not for either of you."

"What?! Don't blame it on him! He didn't do anything wrong!"

"He lent you his paper. You didn't forcibly take it from him, did you?"

"No, but... It's still not his fault. Why d'ya have to do that?"

"You're copying... Right in front of me -- blatantly! What do you expect me to say? I'm academically duty-bound to do something about it. Sorry, fellas."

He looked at his friend and said, "Sorry, man."

The friend just shrugged it off, trying to be cool about it.

The two in question, along with the third who was helping to try and block my view, left together.


I hate this part of my job. I've had to deal with it before. Anyone who teaches long enough has to deal with it.

For some reason, I have only ever seen young men attempt this. I'm sure the girls have done it, but they never seem to be quite so conspicuous as to do it right in front of me.

What gets me is that they seem to think they can get away with it. They don't seem to understand that if I actually witness it with my own eyes and do nothing about it, I am the one at fault. Not only would I be a push-over, but I can be severely reprimanded by my own department head -- and rightly so -- if anyone else reported it. (It has happened -- but not to me.)

As I told these guys today, "I get paid to answer your questions. If you are not sure of an answer, ask me." In fact, I told that one fella today that his "wrong" answer was in fact, not entirely wrong, and he would have gotten part marks for it. Instead, he'll get a zero on the entire section.


Do they think I don't have eyes?

Do they think I'm just too "nice" to do anything about it?

Do they think that their 6-foot-plus frames -- in a pack of 3 -- will intimidate me?


Oh well... if it was going happen, I guess I'd rather it happen on a small assignment at the beginning of term, rather than on a big test later on. That's always ugly.

At least now we know where we stand with each other.

Still though... it's not a part of the job that I enjoy.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

First ice skating lesson

As this is my “Year to try new physical activities”, I signed up for an ice skating class. Tonight was the first class and as you can tell from the fact that I am writing this blog, I am still alive.

I remember when I took swimming in the early spring, I was the only Canadian-born student in the class. It was much the same with the beginner’s skating class. People from far away lands were there to indulge in this favorite northern past-time, eager and raring to go.

I, on the other hand, thought to myself, “What the hell have I gotten myself into? Really, if I die without knowing how to ice skate, will my life have been any less worthwhile? No. So… What am I doing here?”

I wanted to leave. But as usual, sheer stubbornness kept me there.

I have been on skates before... which is quite different from actually "skating", I would say. I was always quite happy to get OFF skates too, I might add.

However, I seem to be addicted to making sure that I find new ways to rip myself out of my comfort zone and get into all kinds of trouble.... So, I threw on the mandatory hockey helmet, laced up my skates and hobbled towards the ice. I got on the ice and promptly attached myself to the big soft blue padding that surrounded the inside of the rink.

I will skip all the gory details of the psychological thriller that the first class was, and just say that I was proud to make it around the inside perimeter of the rink twice in the 45 minutes of the class. For those of you who know the
Olympic Oval at the University of Calgary - note that this is not twice around the Oval ice itself, but rather twice around the inside perimeter of one of the hockey rinks that sits in the middle of the Oval.

By the end, I had even let go of the rubber padding and was clutching on to Michelle, one of the instructors who came over and took pity on me, talking me through every movement – and getting me to respond to her so I would stop hyperventilating. (OK, so that last bit is an exaggeration – but only slightly.) Michelle and I skated for all of about 10 feet together before it was time to get off the ice. Gotta love the teachers who make time for the remedial students!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Gadget girl strikes again...

Those of you who have been following this blog know that about this time last year, I was tickled pink with a new gadget - my Polar F4 Heart Rate Monitor.

We are gadget people in our family. And this is one thing I definitely have in common with the men in the family. If it can make us say, "Oh, cool!" then it's all good.

My Polar F4 is now what I wear as my everyday watch and the HR monitor has been with me through many a workout.

Today, I graduated.

Or, you could say I "pulled a Z." (Z. is my friend who "accidentally" buys things like art, cars, houses and pianos... Well, OK, there was only one piano...)

But this wasn't accidental... I've been tossing it around in my head for months... It was calculated... saved for... coveted. I have been quietly waiting for exactly the right moment.

Today that arrived when A. e-mailed me to say, "On sale...".

I went. I looked. I drooled.

I ordered:

For those non-runner types out there, it's a Garmin Forerunner 305... measures distance, time, pace and even heart rate.

I've been comparison shopping for months... Waiting for sales. Even checking e-Bay (which for this particular item seems surprisingly useless, once you factor in shipping and duty.)

And the 305 models never seem to go on sale in Canada.

Until now.

Thus (finally) my tax refund for this year is officially exhausted! (She says... anxiously sitting by her mailbox praying for happy knees so she can actually use the new gadget when it arrives...)

PS: Furnace is working great now. I think the heat went to my head and made me dizzy, forcing me into impulse shopping. Yeah... that's it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

People change...

So, I'm chatting on the phone with A. tonight. We had a fantastic chat, got caught up on all our news, had several good belly laughs and at the end I said, "Well, it's getting late and I still have homework to do... Time to go snuggle up with my Stats book..."

She replied, "I can honestly say, I never dreamed that I'd ever hear you say the words, 'Time to go snuggle up with my Stats book'. Not in all the years I've known you would those have been words I would have expected to come out of your mouth. Wow..."

I had to admit... I could never have imagined myself saying those words either... Oy vey.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Quick update

Life in a nutshell:

First week of school - Completely mental. Nuff said.

First stats class - Cancelled due to server problems. (It is an online course.) Apart from that, I am almost enjoying the class. It is my first online course and I quite like the format.

Things at the house - %^&# cold! It was 13 Celcius INSIDE the house today. I went to work doing one of the things I do best in order to warm it up - cook. (Get your head out of the gutter!) Anyway... one sirloin roast, pans and pans of roasted veggies (potatoes, parsnips, carrots and zucchini), one large pot of gravy, and an even larger pot of split pea soup later... I managed to get the thermostat up to 16 Celcius. I can live with that...

My brother is coming tomorrow to fix the furnace. Bless him!

The silver lining in all this is that I now have a snuggly new electric blanket. Mmmmmm.... warm!

Training - Progress continues with the walking program. In addition, yoga starts next week. Can't wait for that! I have taken 2 courses with the same instructor in the spring and summer and am looking forward to this one, too.

Blogging - Haven't been blogging this much this week. Still getting adjusted to the new school year. Will try to post and comment more regularly this week coming up...

Have a great week!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Bbrrrr !!!!

It is currently 7 degrees Celcius in Calgary. (That's about 44 degrees Farenheit for those folks across the border.) And it's raining. I just got in from my walk.

I didn't really want to go... Today I was at an all-day meeting at the other end of town and I just didn't feel like driving all the way back to the University in rush hour traffic so I could walk inside at the gym. I contemplated postponing it until tomorrow... But with the all-day meeting came gourmet food. Delicious... Pretty darn near close to divine actually, but far richer than what I am accustomed to these days. I felt lethargic and over-stuffed at the end of the day. Needed to move...

I went home, shivered for a while and thought about going out walking... Procrastinated.

I shivered some more... Called my brother. He's a plumbing and heating specialist. During the summer he came over and gave my furnace a complete servicing. In the process he discovered that a few bits were on the brink of failing... And he couldn't get the pilot light going again after he was done servicing it. Thermal coupler and some kind of switch, I think he said. Anyway, he promised to fix it for me. Bless his heart. By having him do it, I pay for parts... and save a bundle on labour.

He told me today that he's put his back out at work -- again. Except this time, he's off for at least a week, maybe two. He's having a hard time moving around. We bonded over chiropractor stories and chuckled over silly things. Then, I nudged a bit...

"It's... um... kinda cold in here."

"Oh? Well, turn up the heat."

"I can't."

"You can't?"

"My furnance isn't working. Don't you remember?"


"When you came to service it... You said something was broken... The thermal coupler, maybe?"

"Oh yeah! Right! I forgot!"


"Oh well... Put on a sweater. I'll see if I can get it fixed for you soon... once my back is in working order and I can move around."

"OK, well... No worries... Take care of your back first. It's no big deal. We'll get it figured out."

We chatted for a bit longer and said we'd stay in touch. I'm a bit worried about him because he's quite the "tough guy"... For him to admit that he can't really move around and it hurts like a son of a... gun.... is pretty extreme for him.

I was reminded that being able to move freely and without pain is something most people take for granted. I was on the verge of doing just that... thinking about how I wasn't thrilled with the idea of doing my training walk today...

I told myself that this is what I have been moaning about all summer... Wanting to be outside... walking... using my legs. "Well, you've got the opportunity now. Besides, you grew up on the East Coast... A bit of rain never killed anyone! Go!" I told myself.

I rooted around in my dresser and found a pair of leggings from back in my dancing days that would fit now and cobbled together a few layers... But it wasn't pretty. I don't have much in the way of outdoor training clothes for cold weather... much less rainy weather. I was rather a pathetic sight, with capri wind breaker pants on and leggings sticking out underneath... and a light shell of a jacket that didn't match the pants. But oh well... Whatever... I train to stay healthy... not to look pretty. (Note to self: buy some long outdoor training pants for winter, preferrably before the snow flies. And maybe a hat... and gloves...)

Went for the training walk. Felt great afterwards!

At the end of every walk, I get a treat. Sometimes it's a nice warm bath. Sometimes it's half an hour in front of the TV. Sometimes it's a bag of frozen peas on my knee.

Today's treat? My flannel p.j.'s!

They're white with different coloured snow flakes on them - mostly blue, pink and green. I love them. (They're way cuter than what I wore to go walking tonight, I'll tell ya that!)

To my utter delight, they are noticeably looser (hence, comfier!) than when I bought them last winter. Bonus treat!

And now I think I'll go make a nice hot cup of tea, too... That's always a good way to warm the body and soul, don't you find?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What is the sign of being an expert?

I am teaching one course in beginners' Spanish this semester at the university. It is my 13th year of teaching. (Lucky students!)

How can 13 years fly by so quickly??

Anyway... as of today, I have a deaf student in my class.

It's not the first time. A few years ago when I was teaching at the college, I had a deaf girl in my class. It was definitely a challenge having a student with hearing loss in a foreign language class, but I also found it hugely rewarding. She was dedicated and really, really wanted to learn it. I had to adjust my teaching style significantly and in the end, I ended up learning a great deal from her.

Before this term started we were having a Spanish teachers' meeting and one of my colleagues was moaning about having a deaf student this year. I piped up and said, "I've had one before. It's not that bad." Next thing you know, we were talking about him transferring into my class. My colleague just couldn't deal with it...She basically said, "Here... Take him! Please!"

She brought the student to my office today to meet with me and he's seems great. Unlike the girl I had at the college who took Spanish as an option, this fella needs the course for his degree in international business. He doesn't seem thrilled about having to take the class, but seemed hugely relieved when I was open to having him there.

He wears hearing aids in both ears and reads lips. Apparently, he was not born deaf, but lost his hearing at an early age and so, when he speaks it flows naturally... as it would with a hearing person. He says it is deceiving because he actually can not hear very much at all, but people think he can because he doesn't "talk like a deaf person".

As we were chatting he said, "I'm so lucky that you have experience teaching deaf students!"

I quickly countered with, "One! Only one. I am relying on you to help me figure out what will work best for you."

Anyway, we had a good chat and I think he'll be fine in the class.

Apparently, I have now gained a reputation as an expert in teaching deaf students Spanish. God help me. Experience with one student does not an expert teacher make!! Neither does two, as far as I am concerned.

However... I do feel more comfortable having done it once before. And hey, I still remember how to spell "Hola" ("Hello") in American Sign Language!

I wonder how you'd sign "Good luck!"? I may need it...

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Anyone ever heard of "guarding"?

So, the other day Dr. Mike (chiropractor) gave me an adjustment on my knee... after which it felt great. He also said to go see Susan (my massage therapist) and get my quads and hams worked on.

So, I booked a massage for hams, quads and ITBs. Susan says there is some minor ham strain, but nothing serious. She pokes and prods and digs into my quads and then says, "You're expecting it to hurt, aren't you?"

"I guess so," I say... "It has for so long."

She says, "The quads feel great. There's no swelling in the knee... no scar tissue left... and no adhesions. All signs of injury are gone."

I am surprised. Why does it still hurt sometimes... especially when walking (but never in the gym)?

She said she suspects I might be "guarding"... Some kind of reflex to pain (or anticipated pain). In this case, the quad tenses up, pulling the patella off centre, literally causing everything to pull in the wrong direction... creating pain... but it is due to "guarding", not injury.

I kind of get this... but not really. Sounds a bit airy fairy, "it's all in your head" type of stuff... Which could be valid... it seems logical... and yet... a bit "out there".

Just wondering... Have you ever heard of this? Or a better question... If you have heard of it, how can I overcome it? I Googled it and checked it on Wiki, but didn't find much. I also asked my chiropractor, who had heard of it, and my trainer, who had not. Neither of them had concrete suggestions on how to move past it, so I thought I'd throw the question out to Blog-land and see what, if anything, comes of it.

If this is what is still causing me problems, then the next step is to figure out a solution. The sooner, the better!

Having said all that, the walking program continues to progress well. No running yet though...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

What are the chances I'll get through this?

Campus is a-buzz with students again. This is their orientation week and already it feels like the campus is packed.

There are line-ups in the food court (and everywhere) and you can feel the energy zipping and surging around as you walk through swarms of bodies.

Luckily, the gym isn't horrifically packed yet, though I'm sure by next week it will be. I may be back to 6:30 a.m. workouts, just to avoid the crowds.

As for me, I am down to my last required course: Quantitative Research Methods - otherwise known as -- statistics.

I have to be completely honest and say that I'm shaking in my boots about this course. I haven't taken math since grade 12... and even then, I did the non-university math... So... I haven't had much to do with math (in any formal sense, that is) in almost 20 years. Did a Master's in Spanish and have dedicated my career to language teaching.

Now, in the Ph.D. program, I must take this course as a required part of my program. Rather than thinking of it in terms of "Oh no, I am forced to do this. I hate math. Math hates me... It's just not good." I have decided that for the next 12 or so weeks, I will tackle it head on... I am prepared to live, breathe, sleep and eat statistics.... whatever it takes not just to get through the course, but to overcome my fears and get as close as I can to mastering this. (I have no illusions about this... I use the term "mastery" loosely... perhaps even with a language teacher's tongue in cheek.)

Wish me luck; pray for me; send me good energy... whatever it is you do when you wish someone well as they are about to embark on a gruelling journey... mine is about to start.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Brooks (and no... not the running shoes)

I've just come home from Brooks, a town about 190 km east of Calgary. I spent a couple of days out there with my friends, Steamer and Lauren.

Steamer is my "program partner" in the Ph.D program. We both started last September, being the only two accepted into our specialization for that year. We took our time getting to know one another last fall, as we ploughed through classes and adjustments of various types.

By the time we were about halfway through the winter semester Steam had dubbed me his "school wife", but I told him that "real wife" (Lauren) might not take too kindly to that (especially considering that he was living away from her at the time, since he was doing classes with me in Calgary!) And besides... I wasn't exactly comfortable with the term and so we settled on "program partner". I can live with that.

Anyway, Steam has been begging me to go out and visit them since school ended in April. I promised I would... Somehow though, I always had something else to do... But seeing as how it is the last weekend before school started, I was reminded about my promise... and I had to make good on it.

So, I drove 2.5 hours out to Brooks, not sure quite what to expect. Well, we had a fabulous time! I got a tour of the town (about 12,000 people live there), as well as a few neighboring communities. And we mustn't forget the tour of the two trailer parks, either.

After that, we went back home, and visited, chatted, drank, and made a scrumptous paella for dinner (see photo).

For dessert we had my famous Chocolate Cabbage Cupcakes. Yes, they are delicious and no, do not ask me for the recipe. It is a secret. And anyway... you have to know where the chocolate cabbages grow in order to make it...

Steam and I had illusions of doing some school work after dinner, but somehow, that just didn't seem as appealing as visiting (and... um... enjoying some beverages). It wasn't long before we were in no shape to do work of any kind, I must say!

We did get some school work done today after breakfast, which was good. We are both working on manucripts of articles to be
submitted to academic journals for publication. We reviewed and critiqued each other's work, offering suggestions for improvement and other feedback. It is good to collaborate like this as we both learn in the process. We have agreed to give each other second authorship on the articles when (if?) they are ever published. This means we will each get two articles out of the deal, which will look good on our resumes.

After working, the three of us took off in the car again for another tour. This time, we went to man-made Lake Newall, which we saw from two different points, including this one on the beach in a provincial park.

The highight of the tour was seeing the Brooks aqueduct, constructed almost 100 years ago. It is not used any more, as it has been replaced with a more modern water system, but it remains as a historical site.

Don't believe there's an aqueduct on the Western Canadian prairie? Somehow, I didn't think you would... so
I got a picture:

Now do you believe me?

Anyway, I must say, it was a great weekend... I was thankful that we didn't extend the tour to the other thing Brooks is famous for... a big meat-packing plant. I drove past it on my way out of town and that was enough.

This was a part of Alberta I had not discovered before. When A. was visiting from England last year, try as I might, I just could not convince him that he needed to see the Brooks aqueduct, so we stuck to the mountains and other touristy spots. (He also decided that he could die having lived a complete life if we didn't go to Vulcan, either... So, I guess I still have at least one place in Alberta left to explore at some point!)

You don't believe there's a place called Vulcan in Alberta? Go Google it!

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this little adventure outside the city... Good times, good friends... and hey... my first ever trip to a Canadian aqueduct!