A Meme, a Theme, a Bad Dream

1. A Meme

Stop me if you’ve heard this one:

* Grab the nearest book.
* Open the book to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post the text of the next two to five sentences in your journal along with these instructions.
* Don’t dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST.

Seen latest at rimrunner‘s LJ.

I often do the book meme, but I never post it. That’s because the books stacked around my computer are for mostly for work, and not the fun amusing parts of work either. The sentences always turn out to be boring or pretentious.

But today I had a stack of to-be-read-mixed-with-have-read books sitting next to me, and on top of it was Binary Star #1: “Destiny Times Three” by Fritz Leiber & “Riding the Torch” by Norman Spinrad.

“Give me Leiber Three or give me death!” I shrieked (not really meaning it) and plunged in.

He plummeted, frantically squeezing the controls of the flying togs he was not wearing.

That’s perfect by itself. I refuse to break the spell by quoting the next 1-4 sentences.

2. A Theme

Everyone’s checking the “search inside” function of Amazon’s page for The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror to see if they’re mentioned in it. Who am I to start acting like a maverick this late in my go-along-to-get-along life? I checked it in the sublime confidence that I would not be mentioned. But I was, twice–not in the usual “And as for that rat-bastard Enge…” way.

3. A Bad Dream

Except I was awake while it happened. Today I had to do some career paperwork that involved numerical summaries of my teaching evaluations by students for the past five years or so. I have mixed feelings about teaching evaluations. On the one hand, a student is usually in no position to say whether a subject has been adequately treated. On the other hand, they can say if they’ve learned something; their opinions about texts, and lecture styles etc. can be very shrewd–useful even when (perhaps especially when) they’re negative. So I usually look at the comments and leave the numbers alone.

But now I had a couple pages of these numbers and they were devastating. My score had been slowly but inexorably declining over the years; last year was the lowest score yet. In one course I scored a flat 1. Every student in a class had given me the lowest score!

God, I was depressed. Sometimes I worry that, by the 17th time I’ve taught Latin or Myth or what have you I might be phoning it in. (You know the old joke about the old prof: “Last night I dreamed that I was lecturing to my class and when I woke, by God, sir, I was!”) I stumbled through the rest of the afternoon thinking that maybe I should go into some other line of work, one where I was less likely to harm people. Sniper, maybe, or bank robber. Mime. Anything.

But when I went to file away the dreaded numerical summaries at the end of a long day, I noticed something. The numerical options went from 4 (poor) to 1 (excellent). My student evaluations had been steadily improving over the years.

What a relief! This does not mean that I’m a better teacher, of course–maybe I’m just an increasingly effective panderer. But, whatever I’m doing, this is one measure that it’s working.

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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14 Responses to A Meme, a Theme, a Bad Dream

  1. peadarog says:

    Damn you to hell, I only got mentioned once and I’m so, so lovely…

    But on the teaching scores at least, I can congratulate you with some grace 🙂

    • JE says:

      All the guidebooks on Hell make it seem like a fun place full of interesting people, so maybe there are worse fates. Though apparently “superpoke” means something different down there than it does on FaceBook.

      For what it’s worth, I always mention you twice. I always mention you twice.

  2. brownkitty says:

    Are you a better teacher, or a better entertainer?

    • JE says:

      That’s a fair question that’s hard to answer. I’ve had class sessions recorded, and I must say I don’t find them very entertaining. And I doubt anyone endures 1st year Latin or Greek for witty asides about the ablative absolute vs. the genitive absolute. On the other hand, if a Myth class isn’t entertaining it’s not being taught right.

      • brownkitty says:

        The best classes I had were either ones with entertaining teachers, or where there would have been almost no way to kill my interest (choir being the main one of the latter).

        I suspect that most of the teachers I had that weren’t entertaining were not interested in the subjects they were teaching.

  3. zornhau says:

    It does mean that you’re utterly crap at reading the documentation.

    Just how long had you misunderstood the rating system?

    • JE says:

      I am one of those irritating people who only reads the manual when something’s gone wrong (i.e. when it’s usually too late).

      As I say, I never look at the numbers, and the quantitative evaluations are on the flip side of the paper from the comments. So it’s possible that in 11 years here I’ve never been aware that 1 is a good score and 4 is a bad one. With student grades (of which I process 150-200 per year), the reverse is true.

      • zornhau says:

        >With student grades (of which I process 150-200
        >per year), the reverse is true.

        You hope!

        • JE says:

          Actually, it doesn’t matter, as I’m assigning letter grades, not numbers. It’s a computer somewhere that has to remember that “A = 4” etc. and do the necessary calculations for GPAs.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I’ll try to post something more meaningful when I stop laughing.

    –Jeff Stehman

    • JE says:

      My kids were amused, too. And the way the financial crisis is tending, either classicist or mime might turn out to be a more profitable occupation than bank robber, so maybe I’d better stick with what I know…

  5. 2. Congratulations on the well-deserved Honorable Mention.

    3. That is really, really funny.

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