Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advice on two matters, one unrelated to BABIES.

Oh People of the Internet, share your wisdom with me!

1. As part of Operation Flail Around Helplessly in Pursuit of Childcare, we are looking into in-home care. (Edited to add: in MY home. As in, a nanny.) I'm doing my first interview next week. I suppose the purpose of such a meeting is really just to get a vibe. Would I trust this person with the thing that's most precious to me on earth? I'm guessing it will be instantly clear--all I really need is a thin slice. But I should probably also have some, like, questions, just to pass the time. Any thoughts on what to ask? Any general advice? Besides staying home with her because it's best? (Just a little shout out to Anonymous.)

2. I teach the same course every spring semester, and FUCK, the spring semester will be rolling around again soon. Last time an odd thing occurred: About 25% of the students got Ds or Fs. It's never happened before--usually there's one F at most. I've reviewed my behavior, my level of clarity about my expectations, the amount of feedback I provided, etc., and honestly don't think I did anything radically different. The only difference I could think of was that I was pregnant. (Ooops, sorry, this was supposed to be unrelated to babies...) Did they think I was going to be a softie because I was all maternal or some shit? Despite the fact that I told them at the beginning that I am a hard ass when it comes to deadlines and grading? (And yes, I used the phrase hard ass.) ANYWAYS, my question for you is, what should I do this time around?
1. Change nothing.
2. Be meaner. Make it clear that I am really, really mean. I'm thinking something modeled on Professor Snape. Rely on extrinsic motivation.
3. Be nicer. Go all Dead Poet's Society or something. Rely on intrinsic motivation.
4. Quit my job.

(Speaking of which, I met with a senior colleague who was on my tenure committee, and she was all you're so awesome, you're definitely getting tenure, and when I left her office, I thought OH FUCK. I know I'm a huge jerk to be so cavalier about a stable (beyond stable, really) job in these tough times, but hey, that's what I thought.)


  1. Ahh daycare. I will admit up front that I am in no real position to be giving advice on this subject but at least I have visited a bunch of places. I think that a lot of it is really just feel. I also paid a lot of attention to the other kids. Do they seem "happy"? If possible, a great thing is to be able to talk to other parents. I've found that they are very honest and, since most of them went through exactly what you are going through now, they seem to want to be helpful.

    As for the class. My advice is to tell them honestly that a lot of people did REALLY badly last year and that you want to prevent the same thing from happening again. That will get their attention. You can then proceed to drill into them the things that they need to know in order to do well.

  2. 1. One question for the potential care-giver: "How did you decide to start this in-home daycare thingie?" Non-confrontational, prompts a natural flow of dialog, reveals a lot about attitude (terseness=bad), and provides lots of opportunities for follow-ups.

    One follow-up might be, "Oh, interesting. What ARE the state licensing requirements, by the way?" And then see if she knows them and/or resents them.

    2. Was your class any different in composition? I had a similar dip in a course I teach regularly, and I figured out it was because my section was added after the first rush of registration so it was disproportionately populated with screwballs who didn't get it together in time to register before and people who failed the course the prior semester. I wouldn't change anything major, at least at the outset.

    I know what you mean about tenure. It's awesome, but it's kind of like that last scene in The Graduate when Elaine and Benjamin sit down on the bus, grin at each other, and then individually go "oh shit ... now what?"

  3. 1) Are you going through an agency, and do they do background checks? If not, if you have a consent form, I believe you can pay for both criminal and credit checks (and motor vehicle). Questions: discipline, feeding, TV/movie watching, will he/she drive Bun Bun anywhere (storytime, etc.), taking kid for walks, how he/she would structure a day, what if Bun Bun is sick, what if the nanny is sick, nanny's transportation arrangements if they don't arrive in a car, paid or unpaid vacation time, trial period, contracts....

    2) I vote for #2. But I am mean. I knew a lot of profs who gave long painful assignments and pop quizzes the first couple weeks to weed out the slackers. But this only works if there's a relatively long add/drop, and if you won't then drop below minimum enrollment, lose the class, and have to teach Intro Basketweaving all semester.

  4. Ah, the enlightenment of the masses. The husband takes the hey-you're-adults-fail-pass-I-don't-care approach. When I teach, it starts all education-is-a-fire-to-be-lit and then rapidly goes is-anything-going-in-gawd-I-PRESUME-so. Results: variable.

    That was actually no help at all, was it?

    I think those students of yours should consider themselves lucky to have such a brilliant lecturer. I'd like to come over and tell them that, in person.

  5. I went softer than ever this semester because frankly, my personal motivation is not at an all-time high. Results variable. Fresh comp class about the same as ever. Angry, unprepared seniors less timely with deadlines but much easier to deal with. And between you, me, and the Internet, I think that course is...not the most pedagogically sound idea on earth anyway. But it is required and someone's got to teach it.

  6. We hired a part-time nanny for the first couple of months, to give me a wee little break for a few hours a couple of days a week. She was a direct referral from a close friend who is not only lifelong friends with the nanny, but has had her watch her own kids. So, I lucked out with a personal recommendation. If you've met any moms on Bun-Bun-and-Me outings or have any colleagues who use(d) a nanny, you could get personal recommendations that way. I am most concerned with years of experience, attitude toward on-demand care and following my kid's routine (including supporting new things like sleep training, transitioning from bottle to cup, etc.), and training in basic first aid and CPR. I think the biggest thing to keep in mind, since your Mr. works from home and you have a somewhat flexible job, is that you can drop in anytime to be sure things are going as you expect. Also, have a Plan B and a Plan C for days when the nanny calls in sick, since that will happen. When it's least convenient. Be a boy scout, be prepared.

    And I would do whatever makes you feel like a stud in the classroom. If you want to change nothing because it may have been an off semester, change nothing and enjoy your time saved in reworking the syllabus or writing your Imma fuck yall up speech. Or, if that speech would give you academic wood, then give it and fuck em up. I'm utilitarian that way.

  7. My first choice would be quit. My second would be be same and then see if it was the pregnancy that made them think you were a "softy".

  8. Okay first of all, HOW DID I MISS ALL THE DRAMZ ON YOUR DAYCARE POST? Jeesh. You'd think I was living under a rock. I'm so glad to know that I fail as a parent both in weaning earlier than a year AND by putting Mac in daycare. I'd hate to think it was just one thing!

    Oh and also, I still feel the same way I did before on the child care giver thingy - trust your gut. Literally, I believe you will know when you meet your provider and the good news is, even if you miss the mark a bit, you can always fire people. Problem solved. :)

    Job front...I dunno. I think I would probably be meaner because that sounds like the most fun.

  9. Hey -- I echo JBs rec on getting references from people you know. Because, when push comes to shove, turns out that the people you know probably don't love their kids any less than you love Bun Bun and so if the nanny met their bar for several years, she likely will meet your bar too. I also have a set of questions and reference check info and our "contract" if youd like it. We love LOVE our nanny, and I do think that it is possible to find someone who cares for your child well. You can email me if you'd like and I can send stuff on.

  10. Can't help you on Number One, but I bet Bun Bun will be perfectly happy to stay where it's familiar...and nanny's can set up playdates, so you get the socialization experience, too.

    In terms of the second, I'd change nothing. Tell the students exactly that: last time I taught this class, a quarter of the students failed or received D's. It's fair warning. And it may even weed out a few of the most lackluster (which is good as long as you're not worried about enrollments). In other words, scare 'em a little bit up front. I've found that this always works really well. (Insert evil laughter here).