Thursday, September 5, 2013

Conferences and Childcare

I have two conferences coming up this Fall, and have to decide what to do with Baby during them.  Here are the options:

Conference 1: New Orleans, Baby 4 months old, 4 days of conference, I must be there for 2
Option 1: Take Baby and Papa with me
Pros: Papa takes care of Baby, I get to hang out with Baby and not worry about pumping, New Orleans sounds fun for a family vacation
Cons: Plane tickets are expensive, and we already have family visits/weddings to do this year.  Papa has to take off work, and he's just started a job.

Option 2: Baby stays home with Papa, I fly out the morning of Day 1 and come back the evening of Day 2
Pros: No baby travel/childcare issues
Cons: Pumping, Papa still has to take off work one day (weekday), Baby has been known to refuse bottle, I may be too stressed out/worried to enjoy the conference

Option 3: Papa stays home, Baby come with me and I hire someone to watch her during the two sessions I'm participating in, and maybe at other times.  The conference will reimburse me $200 for childcare, but I know no one in New Orleans, so I would have to use the service recommended by the hotel.
Pros: Papa doesn't miss work, I can hang out with Baby, less expensive
Cons: Do I trust a random service with a 4 month old? Also traveling alone with Baby

Option 4: See if my mother wants to come visit New Orleans and watch Baby.  She doesn't live any closer than we do, but possible.
Pros: Childcare, I can hang out with Baby, Papa doesn't miss work
Cons: Is it weird to have your mother at an academic conference?

Probably I'm leaning towards Options 1 or 4, with 3 as a backup? 2 may be too stressful.

Conference 2: Provo, UT, Baby 5 months old, 3 days of conference, I must be there for 1, but have to fly in the evening before and out the following day due to plane/conference schedules.

Option 1: Same as above
Option 2: Same as above, but less of an option since it will be two nights away.
Option 3: Same as above.  No reimbursement from this conference, but I know someone there who can find me a vouched-for babysitter.
Option 4: Same as above, but not an exciting location, and this is far for my mother.

For this one, I'm leaning towards Option 3, since it's two nights, I don't want my husband to miss more work, and I can get a good babysitter.  But ah, the decisions--what would you do?

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Because Papa objected to buying a billy goat

Hush little baby don't say a word
Papa's gonna buy you board games for nerds

And if those board games aren't very fun
Papa's gonna buy you video ones

And if those video games make you fat
Mama's dance class will take care of that

And if all that dancing makes you sore
Papa will take you to relax outdoors

And if outdoors the mosquitos bite
Mama will read you lots of books at night

And when all of Mama's books are through
Papa will have more waiting for you

And when all of Papa's books are done
We'll buy you an e-reader to download some

And if that e-reader breaks down
You'll still be the sweetest little baby in town

Monday, August 12, 2013

Random Khawatir

That I write blog posts in my head for during 3am feedings but do not find the time to commit to the screen while awake

Because why is it that article reviews take 5 months plus, except for the one that you submit a week before giving birth that comes back in a record 8 weeks?

Because the system for the online language course I'm designing hates right to left and all tools necessary for online language learning

Because despite the fact that I am in theory on parental pleave this Fall I am prepping all the Arabic courses and supervising the TAs teaching them (and sure I could refuse to do this, but it would bite me in the butt with more work teaching the second part of the courses in the Spring)

Because although the provost rejected my request for a 1/1 instead of 0/2 maternity leave, I apparently can do independent studies, and now have one

Which I'm doing only because I will get a research project out of it, which is could because my planned second project may have blown up along with Egypt

Only I need to submit an IRB for this project, and after learning the new computer submission system days after giving because IF YOU DO NOT RENEW YOUR OLD STUDY 45 DAYS IN ADVANCE SCARY THINGS WILL HAPPEN it turns out social-behavioral sciences are being transferred and will not use the system, and I have to wait to submit so it doesn't get lost in transfer

Because I am setting up dance demonstrations and trying to advertise for my dance classes

And also trying to get my core and stamina back so it looks like Highland Dancing

Which will be easier after the garage to dance studio remodel is finished on our house

Except that my Achilles doth protest

Luckily for me I have the cutest baby, the best husband, homemade Starbucks, and chocolate!

Monday, July 22, 2013

No more Friday vaccines!

Friday my poor baby had to get 3 vaccines.  I have never minded getting shots myself, even as a child, but watching your happy unsuspecting infant get poked is pretty dreadful.  

Then Saturday evening, she felt hot, and when we took her temperature, it was 100.8.  Low grade fevers are a side effect of the vaccines, but what is low grade? We called the nurse hotline and they said 100.4 was the cut off, anything higher bring her in.  In being the emergency room in this case, since both urgent care and the doctor are closed Saturday.  

So off we headed to the emergency room, where they said they were 99% sure it was just the effect of the vaccines, but to make sure it wasn't a life-threatening bacterial infection they wanted to do a full work-up: urine sample, blood draw and spinal tap.  Eeek!

Since infants don't pee on demand, this meant a catheter up her.  I faint when my own blood is drawn (mostly due to a dreadful vein-finding experience six years ago) so I couldn't watch this, just had to listen to her scream.  Then the spinal tap--they tried to reassure us that it was like an epidural during childbirth.  Except that if you didn't have an epidural, and the main reason was that the thought of anything being stuck into your spine makes you want to pass out . . .this is not reassuring.  Then it took them three tries to make the tap.  

They let us go home after giving her a dose of antibiotics (through the IV) but said she should get another dose the following day, and since the doctor and urgent care would still be closed Sunday, this meant a recheck in ER, and a shot of antibiotics.  Actually, two shots since it was too much for one for her.  

So in three days, my poor baby had five shots, a blood draw, a urine catheter, and a spinal tap :-) Oh and two rectal temperature measures. She is mostly recovered, but it might take me a while.  Luckily, the fever was gone by Sunday and her culture were clear, so it was indeed a vaccine side effect. 

Lesson learned--get vaccines at 8 weeks and not on Fridays!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Catching Up

In addition to moving, things I had hoped to accomplish in the week between baby's due date and when she arrived were:

1) Reviewing an article
2) Submitting an abstract for a colloquium
3) Making up an agreement for a study abroad trip
4) Finishing up the materials for an online course for the Fall

Unfortunately, I went into labor the day I was supposed to meet with the study abroad office, and hadn't accomplished the rest of the stuff, so this didn't work out.  As a result, I've been trying to fit this work (except for the study abroad meeting, which will have to wait) in between nursings, baby calming,  napping, etc.  Thankfully my mother was visiting to help, and my husband was also around (unanticipated benefit of unemployment=no need to worry about paternity leave!) so I did manage to work on these projects 2-3 hours a day, submitting the review yesterday, the abstract today, and getting the books from my office I need to put the finishing touches on the online class today.  Phew!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Birth Story

Babies seem to have an innate cuteness factor that makes you put up with all sorts of bodily trauma (i.e. labor and delivery, breastfeeding, sleep deprivation), slowly erasing it from your mind.  With this under consideration, I figured I should record my birth story somewhere before the pain is completely overwritten by the cuteness of newborn grunts, sleepy smiles, and sweet smells.  Here goes. 

Early in the morning of June 6th, around, I was lying awake in bed, trying to fall back asleep, but unable to find a comfortable position at nearly 39 weeks.  My hip pain was exacerbated by moving all day, and I noticed that now my back was hurting and I felt a lot of pressure in my lower abdomen.  I got up and wandered to the bathroom and the kitchen, and back to bed, and that's when I noticed the back pain/pressure seemed kind of regular.  I glanced at the time.  4:24.  Then 4:34.  Hmm, ten minutes I thought, could these be contractions? This isn't what I thought a contraction would feel like, I thought it would be more of a muscle contraction than a painful pressure.  Never far from my iphone, I opened it up and started googling "early labor contractions."  4:44.  More pressure.  Apparently early labor contractions feel like menstrual cramps, not helpful, as that's something I never have.  Are these contractions?  More pressure, then more, then more.  Definitely not ten minutes apart anymore.  I wake up my husband and tell him I think I'm in labor.  He jumps into action and starts timing the contractions on the app we downloaded about a month ago.  At this point, the contractions, which are starting to feel more like contractions, are only about two minutes apart.  I call OB Triage, per the instructions to call the hospital before coming in.  They tell me as the contractions aren't too bad, and my water hasn't broken, to stay at home as I'm likely in early labor and should only come in during active labor.  

I hang up the phone, and start looking through my checklist to finish off my partially packed hospital bag.  Five minutes later, my water breaks.  I call back, and they say, okay, come in now.  My husband calls my mother, who was planning to come for the birth, but was still 3/4 of the country away, as her flight was scheduled five days before my due date, and we were eight days out.  Being a little more concerned about baby coming early than I was (possibly because her first child, me, was nearly born on the highway) she already had a suitcase packed and in the car and knew that the next direct flight left in two and a half hours.  She jumped in the car and zoomed off, hoping to cover the two hours to the airport quickly enough to make the flight.  

My husband and I headed to the hospital, where they hooked me up to some monitors, and explained that although my water had broken I was still in early labor, and I could come back in two hours.  Since it was now 6:00 am, I was ready for coffee, so I suggested that we go to Starbucks, where we ran into my flamenco teacher who'd seen me just five days earlier in class (yay for dancing till the end!).  Coffee in hand, we headed back to our apartment to wait out early labor, except by this time I was pretty sure I was in active labor, as the contractions were getting difficult to talk through.  

So, we headed back to the hospital, where I stretched for a bit in the meditation room, waiting for my midwife to come on duty.  The midwives work as a team, so the midwife you see during your pregnancy isn't necessarily the one you see for labor and delivery, as it depends on who is on duty.  Luckily for me, the midwife I had been seeing came on duty at 8am.  When she arrived, I checked back into OB Triage, and she sent me to Labor and Delivery, as things seemed to be moving quickly.  

Things were moving quickly, and not too painfully . . . and then I got stuck in transition for nearly six hours, as apparently baby's head was tilted in a way that made it difficult to progress!  At this point, I could feel the energy seeping from me, and thought I would never make it through the pain.  I stretched, I walked, I crawled, I moaned louder and louder, I laid in the hot bath, nothing seemed to make much of a difference.  

In the meantime, my mother made the direct flight, arriving at the airport with just enough time to toss some clothes from her suitcase into her carryon (realizing she didn't have time to check luggage), and rush through the handicapped entrance to security exclaiming "my daughter's in labor and my flight leaves in ten minutes!" They let her through, she made it to the airplane just before the doors shut, and was even able to send us an email via the airplane wifi with the good news.  

She arrived at the hospital just as I was getting narcotics through an IV, in the hopes of dulling the pain of hour four of transition.  Narcotic pain relief is supposed to take the edge off of the contractions, but still allow you to move around (unlike the epidural I'm terrified of). Unfortunately, it doesn't appear to work so well in transition, the most painful stage of labor.  The first dose they gave me had no effect.  The second dose took the contraction pain from a 9/10 to an 8/10 for about three contractions before wearing off.  Due to a generally high level of activity in the ward, I was unable to get any more doses for the next two hours, and then it was time to push and they said I couldn't have any more as it would have a negative effect on pushing. Aaaahh!!!

I'll never make it, I thought, I don't think I can even stand up, let alone push a baby out with mysterious muscles I've never used before!  Yet it turns out that pushing is less painful than transition, and at this point I could at least feel the baby moving, so it felt like something was finally happening.  Just when I was sure I'd never make it, she came out, and they dumped my beautiful crying daugher in my arms.  My first thought was she's huge, how did she ever get out of there? No wonder it hurt.  (She was 6 lbs 12 oz., which is not huge at all, but I was envisioning something smaller in my mind, especially as far as her head was concerned).  

I'm convinced there is no full body workout quite like labor.  I don't think I will ever be able to complain about the pain of the sword dance, or 100 extended high-cuts, or any other physical activity I might engage in ever again, unless it involves a second child.  Every muscle in my body, including many that I was unaware existed, was sore.  This is the most awful, unnatural thing I've ever been through I thought (note that I had not tried breastfeeding yet!).  Yet in a perfect cliche, by the time baby and I had been wheeled down to the mother baby unit, the pain was already receding under the influence of her baby blue eyes . . .

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Welcome baby!

Baby arrived June 6th.  More to come later when I feel up to typing entire blog posts on my phone and/or locate a computer in the chaos that ensued from baby not waiting for our move deadline.  We are all doing well, and she is super cute!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Not a coincidence . . .

When I visited the midwife, her comment was that I looked great for 38 weeks:

"Most people look really tired now, but you look much better than three weeks ago!"
"Well, three weeks ago, the semester ended, so things are a lot easier now . . . "

While I did try to plan for a summer baby (as much as one can with these things), it turns out it was also a brilliant idea to hit the last month as the semester ended--that was such a relief that this month isn't really seeming too bad, contrary to my expectations.  Now, let's hope this trend continues through birth!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Packing, again

Given my frequent moving for the last 14 years or so, I've basically come to associate the end of the academic year with packing and moving.  Even in years when I've been coming back to the same apartment in the Fall, I've been working another job, in another city, another country for the Summer, so more packing.  Now we are packing yet again, hopefully to be moved in before baby arrives (two more weeks, inshallah . . . )

The main difference this time is that we bought a house, as we like our location and I like my job, and so we aren't planning to move for several years at the least, something that is both exhilarating and scary.  On the one hand, it is exciting to be able to convert the garage into a dance studio, paint the walls whatever color I like, and not evaluate every purchase I make on its potential for moving in the future.  On the other hand, there is the mortgage and being responsible for a house.  Yikes!

In terms of packing, the new and old places are only ten minutes apart, so we can move gradually (i.e. no countries or oceans to cross), which is also pretty exciting.  A carload a day, a day of moving furniture, and we're more or less done in a week.  The cats will no doubt be excited as well, especially when they discover how much more room for adventures they will have in the house.

So back to packing, but hopefully the last packing for a good long while!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Summer of Data Cleaning

I love almost everything about research: collecting data, reading theory, writing articles, analyzing data, etc.  However, there is one thing I dislike very much about research, and that is processing all the data I collect in order to analyze it.  Despite el-wa7sh (my dissertation) coming in at 400 pages (quite long for my field), I barely scratched the surface of the data I collected for my dissertation with it.  On the one hand, this is useful, as I have lots of material to work towards tenure on.  On the other, I have to do a considerable amount of data processing to make it workable and also deidentify all of the data to close the active study with the IRB and have them leave me alone.  Data processing includes things like the dreaded transcription, which I still have more of to transcribe in a fashion suitable for linguistic, rather than content analysis, blacking out names and pictures from Facebook pages  (and of course the more active the user, and the better data I got, the longer this takes), making nice tables for SPSS and linking them to my qualitative data, etc.  Essentially, it is incredibly boring, and I have lots of it to do.  While many academics resolve to write things over the summer, I have submitted two articles so far this year, so instead I'm resolving to finally get all of my dissertation data cleaned up (which then means more writing, a much more enjoyable task).  I am secretly hoping that in the post-baby breastfeeding sleep deprivation state, this type of boring work will become challenging, and thus more interesting, but I have my doubts.

Planning classes for the Fall (that I won't be teaching due to maternity leave, but that's a different story) is my other summer occupation, but more on that later, including adventures in online language teaching!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Dance Demos Down!

This weekend was our local Celtic Festival, and I was in charge of organizing the demonstration dance stage.  We had a decent turnout of various types of Irish and Scottish dance styles.  Even better, baby cooperated and with the assistance of a pregnancy exercise belt let me do my own dance demonstration at 36 weeks, focusing on the National dances which require less jumping that the traditional Highland ones.   I'll be reminding any dance students of mine that ever complain about being tired of this feat . . . 

While I can't practice Highland like I'm used to, being able to continue teaching and demonstrating (and taking flamenco classes as well) has been the biggest relief of my third trimester, as I was afraid I would turn into some sort of immobile whale.  Instead, I get to be a dancing whale--infinitely better :-).   Four weeks to go!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Made it!

My first year on the tenure track is officially over!

Grades were finished Tuesday, assessments forms Wednesday, and my article for the semester today.
Alas, being pregnant means no alcohol to celebrate, but I did make a delicious apple spice cake with maple cream cheese frosting to celebrate turning in grades Tuesday, and ba2lawa for a colleague's retirement party Wednesday.  My husband is currently making caramel ice cream, which I can use to celebrate completing my article.  The disappointing part of all of this is that it turns out pregnancy, instead of allowing me to devour copious amounts of food as I had always believed, is squashing my stomach and making it nearly impossible to consume normal amounts of anything, even my favorite treats.  Well, five more weeks to go!

I'm also in a bit of a conundrum with this article, which came together far more quickly at the end than I was expecting.  I'm submitting to an edited book, and the deadline for submission isn't until June 30.  Due to baby, I was hoping to finish by the end of May, but I'm done now.  So do I submit 7 weeks early, or wait? I've ever been a procrastinator, but isn't finishing something 7 weeks early ridiculous to begin with?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Pregnancy is good for your posture

I always thought it was supposed to be the other way around, that pregnancy led to swaybacks and all sorts of other nastiness.  However, I am finding it to be quite the opposite--if I slouch, my stomach sticks me in the ribs, which is really uncomfortable, so I find myself constantly stretching and straightening my spine during the day, in contrast to hunching my shoulders as normal.  When standing, I normally over-rely on my abs and hip flexors, letting my other hip and butt muscles take a break.  But since the former are totally overworked due to the extra belly, I've noticed the latter stepping up to the task more--hopefully they will remember this once baby arrives!  7 weeks to go now . . .

Monday, April 15, 2013

Random Conference Encounters

I've just returned from a conference in England, where I experienced the following random encounters:

1) The woman sitting next to me at the conference dinner was from the same county as me (and the fact that I'm talking about being from a county, and not a town or city, should give you an idea of how rare this is)
2) Her colleague graduated from the same undergraduate university in the same year as me.
3) I visited the local museum, which contained an exhibit on the city throughout the ages.  For each age, they chose a particular city resident to profile.  The one from the early 17th century was a resident who set sail on the Mayflower, and just happens to be my ancestor.  I'm not much of one for genealogy, and knew nothing about this ancestor other than his name and that he was on the Mayflower, but it's a little surprising to see your ancestors profiled on museum walls!

Now, back to counting down 3 weeks left in the semester, and 8 till baby!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Teaching Happiness is when . . .

you open up Facebook to discover your students posting on each other's walls in Arabic!  Momtaz!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Dissertation v. Organization

I have a new computer and am transferring files . . . I can't help but notice that my files were all very organized until 2009, which is coincidentally when I started my dissertation research.  Coincidence? I think not!  Let's hope the tenure-track is a little more organization friendly.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

That pesky grammar

I have been dealing this week with the fallout that occurs when an instructor interprets "communicative teaching" as "never mentioning grammar".  This is an all-too-common myth that has somehow resulted from the swing away from grammar-translation and audiolingual methods that were popular in the beginning and the middle of the last century.  Yes, if you learn via grammar translation, you will not be able to communicate, because you will have no practice actually using the grammar you can explain in minute detail in a setting that doesn't allow you time to concentrate on these details (such as a conversation, where your grammar knowledge needs to be automatic).  At the same time, if everything you say is ungrammatical*, you will not be able to communicate either.  So, what is the solution?

First, the context is crucial.  It is true that you rarely need explicit grammar knowledge (being able to explain the grammar) to communicate if you know it implicitly.  You can acquire grammar implicitly as a child or as an adult, although it tends to be more commonly associated with child language acquisition.  The key ingredient is EXTENSIVE and INTENSIVE exposure.  Five days a week of classroom exposure is not enough unless you are investing a lot of time (like the rest of your waking hours) outside of class.  Study abroad usually doesn't count either, given that this is rarely an "immersion" experience.

So, explicit grammar teaching is a useful shortcut, particularly for adult learners, who are far more cognitively developed than children.  Then, the question becomes how to incorporate explicit grammar in a way that still allows for the communicative practice necessary to develop automaticity? Currently accepted pedagogy calls for giving explicit grammar explanations at home, and then having students come to class prepared to practice this explicit grammar point in an activity (like telling stories in the past tense after looking at a past tense verb chart at home).  This works very well, if you have both parts done well.  If not, you have to make slight modifications.  For example, the Arabic textbook I use (al-Kitaab) has explicit grammar explanations that are not always clear to the students.  So, I modify the explicit at home/practice in class by giving additional explicit explanations at home (such as a short video in English) and/or a short (5 min) presentation in Arabic at the beginning of class (usually using lots of pictures and powerpoint animations), prior to our practice.  This works very well, most of the time.

The instructor who had the trouble was trying to implement the ideal (explicit grammar at home, practice in class) while using a horrible Arabic textbook (that shall remain unnamed) that has completely mystifying explicit grammar explanations (as in I only understand them because I already know the grammar).  Thus, the in class practice did not work, and the students demanded grammar, because they were getting nothing at home.  Had they had the opposite problem, of excellent explanations at home, but poorly designed activities for practice in class, it would have been equally bad.  In any case, I ended up with a group of highly disgruntled students insisting this was the worst instructor in the world, and a highly disgruntled instructor insisting that all the students wanted was traditional grammar lectures.  Luckily, I think this will be resolved with the modification of supplementing the explicit grammar at home with better explanations and doing a short Arabic presentation in class before practice (which this instructor does wonderfully in the other section of the class I teach, with a better book).  The students also agreed that this was what they wanted (and not a 50 minute lecture in English on verb forms that would give them no practice).  The horrible textbook is going away after this year, since I changed the series, so hopefully this will not happen in the future.  But yikes, what craziness!

*Not the same thing as prescriptively correct

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Saved from the bound periodicals!

I spent several hours today writing a proposal for why we need intensive Arabic classes for certain powers that be.  This took me to many university websites (to show hey, all our so-called peer institutions offer  5 or more credits) whose class schedules were not so easy to find.

Of course, I also had to add in the SLA research supporting intensive classes.  Since this is not exactly a recent finding, most of the research is from the 70s and 80s.  Which means that although we have these journals in databases, these articles are not online.  As I contemplated actually heading to the bound periodical stacks (I can't even remember when I might have done this last, although I do have rather exotic memories of doing so and finding the infamous doing shots of whiskey and measuring oral proficiency article), I searched for online versions of a few more articles, and finally found a few to save me from the bound periodicals.  Now, let's hope that the combination of research and peer institution shaming techniques will be convincing!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The pregnancy post

Since I would like to be lost in my theory reading, but am suffering from the pregnancy symptom of ah,there's not enough room in my abdomen for whatever is going on in there, I figure I should write my long-planned but as yet unwritten post on being pregnant.

One reason I've put off writing this post is that the Internet seems to be full of horror stories of being pregnant in academia, but this is not my experience at all.  Perhaps it is my discipline, perhaps it is the departments I've been in, but I appear to be at odds with the Internet, or at least what I randomly encounter on it.

For example, it never occurred to me not to have a baby on the tenure track, as all but one of the assistant professors in my PhD program had babies on the tenure track (and some had two!).  There were also plenty of grad student babies, so having babies and being an academic has never seemed unusual to me, as there were plenty of models (and their babies) around me.

Since it took my mother a while to become pregnant the first time, and I am like her in many regards, I was not willing to wait that long to start trying.  So, when I got this job, meaning a steady (and higher) income, and the prospect of staying in one place longer than a year or two, my husband and I decided to go for it (and it turns out I do not resemble my mother in this regard after all).

When I told my chair I was pregnant, which I had to do quite early on as we were planning a summer program I would no longer be able to participate in, his response was enthusiastic: "Wonderful! We had lots of babies in the department last time I was chair, and now the university has a real maternity leave policy!"  Responses from my colleagues have been similarly enthusiastic.

At the conference I attended recently, one of the grad students brought her newborn.  The conference goers were enthusiastic, and insisted the baby be smack dab in the center of the conference photo.

So all in all, this is quite positive.  This does not mean that the Internet is wrong, after all those with bad experiences are not in my disciplines or departments, but it is heartening for me to know that this is not all there is.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Back to Theory

For my current article, I am delving once more into theory, (re)reading the poststructuralist theories of identity that I first encountered in high school English, then undergraduate linguistics, then graduate sociolinguistics and second language acquisition.  Luckily for me, despite the fact that I often struggle with incorporating these theories into my work (since you can't just straightjacket understudied contexts into them), I never really get tired of reading them.  I find the concepts difficult to work with, but this is part of the point--if everything could be neatly categorized, we would never have needed to move beyond structuralism.  Most of all, I am coming to appreciate the possibilities (or "transformative power" as the theorists would say) of these theories for my teaching, research, and life.  Having the words to express what is wrong with essentialist categories, instead of just feeling frustrated at their essentialized nature, turns out to be quite useful.  It makes the world a less certain place to be sure, and more difficult to navigate if you can't just rely on your essentialist gendered, racial, national, etc. categories to tell you what you should do with your life and spare time, but on the other hand, it means that there are many, many possibilities, and this is appealing to me.

Since SLA has borrowed these theories from other fields of the humanities/social sciences, I tend to think of these fields as more advanced theoretically.  This is one reason I wanted to be in a literature/cultural studies department rather than an SLA one* and so it is always surprising to me when I run into say, a cultural studies professor who specializes in critical race theory, but espouses essentialized gender categories, or a literature professor who focuses on issues of identity in the work of female poets from a particular century and country, but doesn't seem to realize that these same issues and theories apply to their teaching of the language of said country.  For me, the value of post-structuralist theories is not just in their rather messy applications to my teaching and research, but also as a way of understanding life, and so they are useful everywhere, at least until I find something better.

The place I find this contradiction most striking and frustrating is in the organization of language departments (including every one I've ever been associated, this post is not about Andalus U), where students take "language" classes followed by "content/culture" classes.  As noted in a previous post, one of my major issues with these language classes is not offering enough hours to get students to a reasonable proficiency level (like Advanced on the ACTFL scale, which is not actually all that advanced in terms of life, but which many students never reach despite six or more semesters of language classes).  However, as I move from my happy theory bubble to the reality of the views of certain language instructors I encounter, I see that these classes are often rooted firmly in a structuralist tradition: glorifying and prescribing the langue at the expense of the more useful parole, or tossing in the obligatory song, traditional dress pictures, and food items for "culture." Part of the problem, in my view, is the division of labor that occurs in language departments, where "anyone" can teach language classes, especially lower division ones, whereas only researchers with PhDs can touch the "content/culture" ones.  This is obviously problematic even from a structuralist perspective of acquiring structures, but for me it is also problematic in terms of incorporating current theory.  If language classes are devalued as not requiring the theoretical knowledge that the content/culture classes do, can we really expect them to be better? If the teaching of language classes is given to people assumed to be uninterested in theory (lecturers, although obviously this isn't always true) or not yet competent enough in it (grad students, again, not necessarily the case) how can we expect theory to be implemented in these classes?

Luckily for me, I am my own little diktatora in terms of building Arabic section at Andalus U, so I can mostly ignore this ridiculousness.  However, it frustrates me when I encounter or read about these types of language classes outside of my own, or when I encounter pompous idiots (not at Andalus U so far) who assume that if I am interested in language teaching or have a PhD in SLA, I can't possibly be interested in or know anything about literary or social theory, and reference things like "dialogism" or "imagined communities" with a condescending offer to explain "because I know you don't study this".

This is not something I have the power to change alone (just look at the struggles in ESL teaching, where they've been on top of these theories for decades) but progress sure would be nice!


*That and reading/discussing the positivist/structuralist research that still dominates a portion of the field makes me want to rip my hair out

 

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Woes of a Technology Addicted Arabic Speaker

I am in the market for a new personal computer, as after two years of absorbing the Cairo dust and a year of analyzing data and cranking out el-wa7sh, my poor laptop has been announcing for the last few months it's desire to quit (or at least not run the gazillion programs I always have open all at once).  I (or rather my husband) have previously (maybe a year ago?) upgraded the hard drive and RAM, but it is still not happy.  There are also mysterious flecks in the screen that I attribute to some combination of cats and Cairo dust, and have resisted all of my screen cleaning attempts.

However, then there is the question of what computer to get? At work, I have a 27" iMac, which I love.  It has lots of hard drive space, and I can have have four or five programs (or windows of different programs) running side by side on a screen that size, which works very well for me.  The difficulty of course, is that it's not portable, and then what would I do for conferences, travel and the like.  In all honestly, I'd like to just travel with my iPad, but there are currently no iPad apps I can find that can support the basic things I do every day for teaching and research, which include features such as:

1) Right to Left formatted tables (no, not just the text, but the whole table).
2) Right to Left bullets in powerpoint

Google docs, for example, is great if I am online, but alas, if I am traveling, I am likely to want to do stuff offline.  Another trick is that my teaching materials in particular have to be sharable with Microsoft users, which means the tables, etc have to convert nicely.  This is the reason that I run Microsoft in a virtual machine on my current laptop--while there are word processors that support Arabic very well on the Mac (i.e. Mellel) they are crap when converting things like tables with colors and highlights to Word.  In contrast, something like Pages, that can convert tables nicely is crap when it comes to supporting Arabic.  My presentations don't need to be shared, but they do need to support Arabic.  Given Keynote's lack of Arabic support on the Mac, it seems unlikely that it will be supported on the iPad, and the only office iPad app I found that said it did support RTL had terrible reviews in the app store.

So, it seems that at least for now, I need a laptop to travel.  My ideal solution would be to get an iMac and Macbook Air, but that is way out of the budget.  I could also get a Macbook Pro and a nice screen, but that is also a lot if I want a screen like my iMac.  Since I spent a lot of time daily with this screen, quality is important to me (this is also the reason I refuse to just purchase a PC computer).

So, at least for now, relying on the iPad for travel seems unlikely.  So then I started thinking, well if I had an iMac, I would be able to work from home, and I could just try to pare down things on my laptop and use it just for travel, and perhaps it will be happier.  One of the things it objects to the most is running the virtual machine, but I need to do these fancy word processing things in Arabic, and this is the root of all of this trouble (thanks, Microsoft, for your steadfast refusal to support RTL on the Mac, which would solve all of my problems).  So, as I do from time to time, I revisited the Office options on Mac, hoping that this time one of them would support opening and editing my teaching documents created in Word for PC, creating documents able to be opened and edited in Word for PC, and creating/opening/editing Powerpoints.  This would allow for the removal of the virtual machine from my laptop, which would mean I could actually accomplish something without it freezing whenever I try to edit anything.  My laptop made some very unhappy noises while all of this testing was going on, but here are the results:

Word Processing:
Attempting to open my 102 Weekly Schedule (a document that contains highlighted text,  a mix of Arabic and English, RTL numbered lists, and RTL tables with assorted color-coded fills):

Pages: letters disconnect (although changing the font will fix this), no RTL support
Mellel: RTL support is fine, but table loses all of its coloring 
TextEdit: RTL is okay, but no table support, and table loses all of its coloring
Google Docs: perfect support, but not sure about offline editing
Nisus Writer: flips the table in reverse, can't find a way to make the whole table RTL
LibreOffice: letters disconnect (although changing the font will fix this), flips the table in reverse, can't find a way to make the whole table RTL, RTL support seems rather limited
Open Office: Victory! It seems that since I last did this run through there is now an Open Office version native to Mac (there wasn't in the past), which does all the RTL stuff I need, opens my docx document perfectly, and makes my laptop considerably happier to run.  The only potential problem is that it saves with doc, not docx files, but as far as I know, I don't use any docx features, so this is fine.  

Slide Shows:
Attempting to open my most recent conference presentation, in Arabic, with tables, graphics, RTL bullets, notes, and animations
Keynote: This program is a disaster with Arabic--no RTL bullets, if you click on an Arabic word to edit, it starts editing a few characters over, not RTL text direction choice, enough said
Google Docs: See word processing
LibreOffice: See word processing (tables are important in slide shows too!)
Open Office: Victory again! See above, and I don't think I use any pptx features.  I guess the moral of this story is to just keep visiting these programs every few years hoping they've updated to support what you want.  

I will have to experiment with Open Office for Mac a bit more before I commit to the idea of removing Microsoft from my laptop entirely, but it seems that finally, finally, there may be a viable solution.  There is even spell check for Arabic!  

Dreaming of working from home on a nice iMac with a snuggly 2uTa on my lap, I bit the bullet and went to order the new iMac, only to find out it is on a 3-4 week shipping delay.  Ya weel!



Friday, January 18, 2013

Semester goals

Based on last semester, I have two goals for this semester:

1) Spend more time reading (both things directly related to research, and those that are more part of what Jonathan calls the Scholarly Base.
2) Spend more time coding/deidentifying/organizing my dissertation data (which didn't even all make it into poor enormous el-wa7sh)

Since I am only teaching one class this semester, things are a little easier, as I have more time.  This week, a decent amount of that was spend sorting out the students in the Arabic program (no you can't take Arabic 102 without Arabic 101 or alternatively if you have completed high school in Arabic in an Arabic-speaking country) and doing other things related to the first week.  However, I anticipate this settling down shortly.

Since reading is interesting, I am more motivated to do this.  The idea is to read things in my field (since this requires more concentration and notes) during the day, and more fun scholarly base stuff at night (like the 30 pounds of Arabic novels I brought back from Egypt).  For most of last semester, I was unable to read at night, as I was in my first trimester of pregnancy, and suffered from terrible evening sickness (okay, big news, I know, but I'll discuss it more in another post).  I am now in the second trimester, and suffering a bit from jetlag in the evenings, but am no longer curled up miserable on the couch at 7pm.  So, this is good news on the reading front.

Data organizing on the other hand . . . is just boring.  Yesterday, I had the brilliant idea of listening to the BBC Xtra while deidentifying Facebook pages, and that was a considerable improvement.  Still, I don't have much tolerance for this, and I think I will just have to push through.

Updates forthcoming on all fronts!


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Yes, we need intensive language classes!

By far, my biggest annoyance this semester was the fact that the language classes I was teaching are only three hours a week.  This is, in my opinion, ridiculous for any language, but especially for Arabic, which requires more hours to learn for English speakers.  Having classes only 3 hours a week means:

--it is harder to learn the language (since you need to do something with it every day, and language learning is all about time and practice)
--you can take a lot of classes and still not be able to do much in the language
--you are behind your peer institutions that offer intensive classes, and thus less competitive for jobs and scholarships


However, apparently Andalus U is not big on intensive language classes, which means I may have to do something sneaky, like have an extra 3 credits required online.  I am tempted by the idea of a hybrid class, which would still only meet 3 hours a week, and have the other 3 credits online, as this would make scheduling easier and also allow me to take advantage of the best of both environments for language learning.  We shall see.  

To those that say it is a lot of credits for students, and will reduce enrollments, I say you have to make choices: quality over quantity.  To those who say, but you will have to teach five days a week, I say that if you are not willing to do that, you should not be in this field.  To those who say well, it's the culture that's really important, I say that you will never get the culture without the language (and vice versa of course, they are inseparable).  

Another interesting question of course, is why this is so important to me.  The students don't know (yet) they're missing out with three credits rather than five or six, and it's less work for me to teach a three credit class than a five or six credit one.  So something I've been thinking about a lot recently, spurred on of course by the fact that much of what I've been reading recently focuses on ideologies of language learning, is why this is so important.  

The answer is that I view fighting American monolingualism as an important life goal.  One way I do this is through my teaching and research, which also explains why I get so frustrated and annoyed when people treat these as separate areas.  While it is objectively true that since I do not do classroom research, my teaching does not lead to things that "count" as research and vice versa, I view teaching and research as part of the same larger goal.  Being a quality teacher and researcher allows me to fight on two fronts.  

Similarly, if I accept the status quo, that it's okay to have three-credit language classes, that it's okay to take six semesters and still not be able to do much in the language, I am supporting monolingualism, despite the fact that as a language teacher I am ostensibly working against it.  It is both the covert and the overt messages we give about language learning that are influential.  We cannot let the former undercut the latter.  

And now I will step down from my soapbox, but continue the fight.  

Friday, January 11, 2013

First Semester Reflections Part 2: Dancing

Due to the unfortunate lack of Scottish Highland Dancing in these parts (although I'm working to remedy this) I took flamenco lessons this past semester, since that seems to be the thing to do here. While flamenco suffers from a serious lack of bouncing, it is at least very technical while maintaining its own folk style, which is what I like about highland. At our December recital, I was talking with one of my classmates, who is in her first year of a PhD in English at Andalus University, and she asked me how I balanced dancing with my academic life. My thoughts went along the lines of what are you talking about? to what other option is there? to well, you have to do something other than academics, which is what I finally said, since the first two seemed rather rude. She seemed relieved, explaining that some people in her program seemed to concentrate on doing only academics, so she felt strange doing dance as well. I assured her that I had done just fine in grad school doing both, and that it had in fact helped me when I was pretty much working all waking hours on my dissertation, because dancing in the afternoon gave me the energy to keep working into the evening. I mean, I hope to never again work the hours I worked on my dissertation, but taking that break to dance was what made it possible, albeit painful. If there are people who desire to spend every waking hour on academic work (I have personally not met one) they should most certainly do this, but it seems odd to me to have this be an expectation. This semester, I feel like I got plenty done, and I basically worked from 8-4:30 5 days a week (including breaks, and not including the occasional weekend hours I put in). By the time I got home, I was quite tired, and although I would usually read for an hour or two in the evening (although there was a big chunk of the semester where I didn't, for reasons that will become apparent in a later post) it seemed pretty much impossible to do anything other than dance, eat, and relax.

So I'm not really sure what the point of this post is, other than that I feel lucky that no one has ever made me feel guilty for dancing when I could in theory (but not in practice) be doing academic things, or that I have never even had to consider this as a potential conflict until this classmate asked this question. I suppose that I'm kind of sad and horrified that there are people who make my classmate feel like this, as it seems like a terrible and also pointless thing to do.

In any case, moving on with my dance plans for next semester, I am signed up to start teaching Highland Lessons, dance at a Burns Night, and will continue with flamenco. Happy Dancing to me!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

In which I feel famous . . .

There's nothing to make a young academic happier than meeting someone at a conference who says "oh, I've read your article, it's really important"  . . . and then pulls it out of their bag!

Yes, I almost fell out of my chair.  All the more motivation to continue this research!

First Semester Reflections Part 1


I am on the train from Alexandria to Cairo (although obviously when you read this I will not be), which is in a sense where this blog began, a product of fieldwork stress and too many random theoretical thoughts to keep track of. At that point I mainly blogged about the former, but I often think that it would be helpful to add in the latter. In any case, since I have now completed my dissertation, and landed a tenure track job, and the second semester has not yet started, it is time for some first semester reflections. This will be a multi part series, as there have been many, many changes going on in my life, but I am not yet sure how many parts this will be. In any case, this part will focus on my accomplishments in the areas I'm evaluated on, and my thoughts thus far.

Research:
--transferred my dissertation IRB to Andalus U (far more complicated than it seems)
--submitted an article (based on a dissertation chapter, but with considerable theoretical and data re analysis)
--provided comments on an article I'm third author on, that will be submitted soon
--deidentified part of my data
--read a lot
--organized all of my sources in bookends, including making a reading list of urgent and not so urgent ones
--presented at two conferences (well, technically one starts tomorrow, so I haven't attended it yet, but my presentation is ready)
--gotten accepted to two more conferences

Overall, I think this looks pretty good in terms of accomplishments, and I met my tenure plan goal of submitting this article. I have to admit I was a little skeptical of the whole working on writing in short chunks of time every day, but it seems to have worked. According to my charts, with few exceptions, starting in October I wrote for 25 minutes on MWF and 50 on TR. This gave me a nearly completed draft by finals week, when I upped the writing to 100 minutes for four days. Then all I had to do over Winter Break was revise, which I mostly did the past four days sitting in my favorite coffee shop watching the Mediterranean and drinking hot chocolate. Tough life, eh? Then, after all the Internet in Alexandria seemed to be down for days due to weather, I submitted. So by my estimation, this works, although we shall see what the reviewers think about this project.

Teaching:
--taught three classes (technically an overload, so I am only teaching one class this Spring)
--although two of these were sections of Arabic 101, which I have taught before, using the new (and much better) edition of the textbook, and actually getting to teach the way I want meant substantial revisions to the class
--supervised the TA who taught the other Arabic classes
--attended a teaching conference

In general, I was pretty satisfied with my teaching. What a difference it makes to be able to do what you want, and thus do crazy things like teach proficiency-oriented classes that address the diglossic reality of the Arabic language! I will never, ever, go back to fus7a only. It is just wrong, and no one will ever be able to force me to do it again, Mwahaha! There are of course things I will revise in the future, and there are some serious structural issues to the program that I will discuss in a separate post, but so far, so good. I got two class observations for my tenure box, which were excellent, although I do not have my student evaluations yet.


Service:
Luckily, I don't have to do much of this. I served on one committee and one advisory board. The latter only met once, so I don't have much to say about it. The former was a good fit for me, for several reasons. It is in charge of giving out grants for a particular thing that is the subject of my research, so I am quite well placed to evaluate the applications (or grumble and moan about their quality). Furthermore, I will be applying for one of these in the future, so it is useful to know how the committee operates. I wonder if in the future, as a tenured professor, it would be so enlightening serve on the IRB committee. I must remember this. In any case, this did not take up very much time (14 hours) so I don't have much to say about it.

All in all, I think it was a productive semester, and here's hoping for more inthe future!