This Week In My Classes: February Break

bones-season1Not only is February a short month already but it includes two of the winter term’s time-outs (times-out?): Munro Day and Reading Week. Because February is often one of our most difficult months weather-wise, it’s usually a big relief to have the pressure ease up at work a bit, even if there’s always still plenty to do. This year, the February weather actually hasn’t been that bad, but the change of pace is welcome just the same.

So what’s on my to-do list for this week? Well, of course, though there are no classroom hours, I still have teaching-related work to do. The students in Pulp Fiction turned in their first formal assignments last week, and I’d like to make a dent in my portion of them before lectures start up again. They’ll also be wanting details about their next assignment soon, so I will be finalizing the topics and instructions. Then I have to be ready to go for next Monday’s class, which means rereading our first installment of The Maltese Falcon and refreshing my lecture notes–which reminds me that I also need to post the topic for their next Reading Journals in time for them to write on it for Monday, which is just the kind of routine business it’s easy to lose track of when we aren’t otherwise following our weekly routine! For Sensation Fiction, I need to keep rereading East Lynne and prepare some notes for our class discussion. In this class I have the luxury of a group of students who are generally both well prepared and keen, so I get to play coach and prompter more than teacher, which is as it should be (but isn’t always) in an upper-level seminar.


I’d have all that to do even if we didn’t have a week “off.” But in that case I wouldn’t also be hoping to write a book review (I finished reading the book for the first time this morning, so that’s one task well underway), and I wouldn’t have been able to schedule nearly two full days’ worth of meetings–I’m one of two members of an “internal review committee” for the MFA in Creative Nonfiction at King’s. Reviews of this kind are a regular part of academic life; I’ve been on many such committees doing reviews of individual departments in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and this year my own department is itself the subject of just such a review. The review I’m working on now is on behalf of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, but the process is basically the same; we’ve got a lot of documents to read and this week we will be interviewing faculty, staff, and students. It’s a program I’ve taken a peripheral interest in since it was launched, so I’m glad to be getting a closer look.

Finally, in terms of formal obligations, I have two reference letters to take care of a.s.a.p. This has been kind of a slow year for reference requests (though that can always change). I think one factor is that fewer and fewer students are asking me for letters to MA or PhD programs (and thus for letters for SSHRC funding). Students applying to graduate programs need multiple letters, as do graduate students moving into the academic job market, so when their numbers decline there’s an exponential decline in references. One reason I don’t have a lot of these requests this year is presumably that I’m not teaching in our own graduate program right now, so I’m not a highly visible resource for them, but I’ve also stopped actively encouraging students I know to apply for MA or PhD programs. This puts me somewhat at odds with some of my colleagues, who in response to the decline in applicants to our own MA and PhD programs (and thus a corresponding slump in admissions) have been urging the rest of us to do what we can to improve the numbers. If students approach me about graduate school on their own, I’m happy to talk over the pros and cons and support them if they are sure about their direction, but knowing what I know, I just can’t bring myself to recruit them. (On that topic, I thought this recent piece in University Affairs did a good job pointing out some problems with the narrative about how valuable PhDs are for non-academic jobs.) In any case, more of the letters I’ve been asked for in recent years have been for options such as Dal’s MLIS or MPA programs, as well as (as always) for law school and education degrees.

devils-cubI haven’t started a new book since I finished Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, though I did reread Georgette Heyer’s Devil’s Cub last week after recommending it to a Twitter friend looking for a Valentine’s Day present for his wife. I hope she liked it! Sometimes I reread just the final third but this time I started from the beginning. It does take a little while for all the pieces of Heyer’s plot to get lined up, but once they’re in place it’s comedy gold, I think, and also pretty romantic–though YMMV depending on your tolerance for bad boy heroes. (But Mary is so having none of his self-indulgent nonsense!) It’s also good preparation for teaching Lord of Scoundrels, which will be up in Pulp Fiction in just a few weeks!

Then when I’ve had enough of feeling busy and just want to relax and be entertained, I’m watching Bones, which I am really enjoying. It’s strangely perky for a show about grisly deaths and serial killers! The plots can be kind of absurd (I just finished Season 3, and the whole Gormogon plot was pretty annoying, especially the twist ending!) but I like the camaraderie between Booth and Bones a lot. Although I have avoided more specific details, I do know that their relationship eventually changes, but for now what I like best about it is precisely that it is a partnership and not a romance. The idea that a man and a woman actually can be just colleagues and friends seems not just realistic and refreshing but, in this #metoo era, valuable.

And that’s how my February break looks from here! I’ve had busier ones, and snowier ones: this one looks like it might be a good balance of useful work and welcome diversion, with minimal shoveling.

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