Thursday, April 05, 2018

Lost my temper

This is one of those "everything is broken right now and I am taking what would, in happier budget times be seen as a minor annoyance and miscommunication, as a sign of how all our jobs are doomed"

So. My Thursdays are busy days - 8 am class, office hours, 11 am to 12:15 class, 1 pm lab. That 45 minutes between the 12:15 class ending and 1 pm lab beginning is lunch break, plus "skim over the lab so I know what's going on" (even though I've taught this lab multiple times.)

I say this to point out that I don't really have time to check up on stuff; I should be able to assume lab is ready to go - this is a Gen Ed class with multiple sections, one that gets done before my 1 pm section.

There is one lab preparator who sets it up each week; my TAs and I break it down. The idea is that each person who teaches in between is supposed to make sure everything is working.

But this week it was not.

The biggest issue was that there were very, very low levels of two of the four sugar solutions (glucose, fructose, galactose, and lactose) needed. Like, not enough galactose to do the lab with, and probably not enough lactose.

Also no one had put the fresh yeast in, though I expect to have to do that (it activates fast). It was actually upon walking in about 5 minutes before class to do that that I noted the low levels of the solutions.

"No problem," I thought, "There will be more in the fridge."

Except there was NOT. They used them ALL and didn't tell anyone and didn't make more.

Also, and this is a personal pet peeve, but the labelling was not done properly. The way I was taught, back when I did some low-level preparator work in my dad's geochem lab in summers, is this:

Name of the substance and its concentration
Date it was mixed up (and expiry date if one applies)
Name or at least initials of the preparator*

(And also, if it's something very hazardous, you note the hazards).

(*This is so you know who to cuss at if it's made wrong)

Nope, the lactose bottle had an "L" hastily scribbled on it, and the galactose a "GL." It took me a moment to figure out what they were and I am the one TEACHING the lab.

Anyway: I also realized the Parafilm they were supposed to have was not there, so I ran and poached my box out of my soils lab (and yeah, that means I'll run out that much faster). I later found out there were rubber stoppers they were supposed to use INSTEAD but the lab manual says "Parafilm" and I was never informed, and there was no note about the stopper in the lab, and there's no communication and ARGH.

Anyway. So I raced around and got stuff and made up new solutions and it took about 20 minutes of lab time and this was where I was SO frustrated because I knew the students were waiting there and it makes me look INCOMPETENT that the lab isn't all set up ready to go and I hate looking incompetent and I guess the expectation is I just skip eating any lunch so I can go check on the lab? That's great - have a cranky, hungry, perimenopausal woman on a medication KNOWN to play hob with blood sugar levels teaching a class.

I was angry but at least I don't scream when I'm angry, nor do I storm out of class (though, oh, was I sorely tempted to just hand around a sheet and say "I will give you full credit for showing up but we can't do the lab). I get quiet and my voice gets very tight and my posture gets rigid and I don't wave my hands around when I talk....sometimes when I'm really angry I cry, but luckily not this time.

But anyway. I did a quick pre lab first and damme but I wasn't nearly crying as I wrote on the board because I am SO tired and there is always SO much to do and honestly, if we were properly funded? We'd have someone whose ENTIRE job was to be lab preparator and they would take care of all this and I could just walk into the lab and teach, no worries.

(The other issue: this is not my lab so I do not know where anything is, so when I have to search for stuff - which is regularly - it takes five minutes of opening and closing drawers and cabinets before I hit on the right one).

I got the stuff mixed up and got the lab going. And then we found there was a fantastically large pile of dirty dishes from LAST week because the person whose job it is to wash them never came in. And this was the liver-and-raw-chicken lab, so it stunk and was hard to clean and I looked at them in utter despair and said, "I have to be somewhere this afternoon and tomorrow I have Science Fair so I won't even be here, I guess I have to come in and do this on my Saturday?" (Assuming, as I did, the person had either just quit or had timed-out on their hours for the week doing other tasks).

One of the TAs offered to do it so I put her on it.

Anyway, the dishwasher wandered in. I told them that I had put the TA on washing the dishes because they never got washed last week, and they kind of snapped at me "I had a FAMILY EMERGENCY" and I was like "okay, okay, I didn't know that" but you know what? If I am to be absent from even 20 minutes of my office hours the administration expects me to put a sign on my door indicating their cancellation so maybe, I don't know, you e-mail someone that you're not going to be in so we can arrange it so chicken isn't fermenting out on the lab counter for a week?

That's what this is: a cluster of bad/no communication, and other people assuming someone else will take care of stuff.

But anyway. Lab got done, but I kind of wanted to cry all through it, because (a) I kinda lost my stuff in front of the class and am mad at myself for doing that and (b) I am just so tired and everything is so broken right now and it's like we're trying to keep doing what we did when we had like twice the budget and more people and all of us are just overwhelmed and overworked and while "not enough galactose solution" should in no way make me this upset, it does, because it's symbolic of how little education seems to matter any more in anything, and how little my career and really my life count for anything in the grand scheme of things.

I still kind of want to cry. I want to refuse to teach the last lab of the week ever again after getting royally screwed over by missing supplies a couple times, but I also know that there's no way I can avoid it because of how my schedule falls out.

I did make up enough solution, and label it CORRECTLY and it is now in the freezer for next semester and I need to tell the other people about it but yeah. I don't know if that makes me a patsy or what and some days I wonder if what my faith teaches me is "treating others with at least a minimum of grace" is just, in the hard cold world, "being a patsy and a loser" and I don't know how to reconcile the two so I'm not a coldhearted female-dog but also am not taken advantage of...

But yeah. I would like everyone who things educators can "do more with even less" to come and work under the conditions I work under. I'd like folks to work where there is a permanently leaky roof. I'd like our Legislators to have to use the same cheap, crummy grade-Z-with-the-wood-still-in-it paper towels that only push water around and don't absorb it. I'd like them to have to count glassware and pray no one breaks anything because we're down to our last 20 beakers or some such.

I love teaching but the more we get squeezed, the more I wonder how long I can keep doing this before my morale just hits bottom.


ETA: First piano lesson of the spring makes things better. The biggest thing is the change - doing something different for a while and interacting with a different person. The other thing is that I do seem to have gained more competence as a pianist over the winter - could play through most of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" without a mistake, and even the Philip Keverin Mendelssohn-inspired-arrangement of "Abide with Me" that I just started late last week didn't go too badly.

But yeah. Sometimes I do wish I was the kind of person who really COULD lose my temper at another person and scream at them a little bit to let them know just how serious the thing they did was. But it's not in my nature; I am not a screamer, I am more of a very-quiet and "well, it's fine" kind of thing where I say "fine" in that kind of bitten-off way that most people with a modicum of awareness realize means it's NOT fine.

I did go to my chair on my way out the door to go home and told her about the problems and she agreed that the lab preparator (a student worker) fell down on the job this time (but he is almost done with his degree, graduating, so maybe there's also a touch of senioritis there? But that doesn't help what happened today) and also that the dishwasher needs to be more communicative, and in general, things need to be better in the future. But yeah, they probably won't be, I think, not without several more student workers AND someone who leads everything up who is kind of obsessive about things being "right." (We got spoiled - my former colleague Judy used to head this stuff up and she was SUPER organized and precise and so you could walk into lab and KNOW that everything would be there, it would be in order, and the glassware would be clean. But she retired, and it's not been the same since)

Gonna fix some dinner and wash up for the evening (sigh, it takes twice as long when you have to heat water on the stove to wash with) and maybe crochet some more on Heartthrob. This day is fired.

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