Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Apparently not everyone hails from Planet Halfassery

So! Among the many things I've done since returning from my conference 48 hours ago--read and commented on 25 comp papers; graded a sheaf of quizzes and worksheets; wrote and administered a makeup midterm; met with a failing student; presented self and research to new M.A. students; slept for not-quite four hours last night--one of the things I did not get around to doing was devising any sort of lesson plan for any of my three classes today.

In comp and my Milton seminar, I've at least taught the material before and have old notes and/or experience to go on. In Shakespeare, however, I'm teaching a play that I don't know well and have never taught.

Hurrying from the parking lot to my office this morning, I spied my Renaissance colleague--also a junior professor, but an actual Shakespearian--walking a few blocks ahead of me.

"Colleague!" I said, running to catch up with him. "Hey! All's Well That Ends Well. You taught it?"

"N-no," he said, looking at me funny. "That's one of those plays--I don't think I've even read it since college."

"Yeah," I said. "I know! But I'm teaching it today and I don't have a lesson plan."

He stopped walking and gave me a look of pure, startled surprise. Not disapproval--just wonder. "But you teach. . . now, right?"

"In 20 minutes." I said. "Well, gotta run! I need to grab some coffee and figure some stuff out. Group work? Maybe? It'll come to me. Catch you later!"


And in fact, it was totally fine: I'd loved rereading the play and was eager to talk about it--and my students, too, were lively and opinionated. We worked through a couple of scenes, broke down some themes and images, and thus filled our 90 minutes.

I'm still laughing, though, at how utterly perplexed my colleague seemed at the idea of someone (or perhaps me in particular?) showing up for class unprepared. On my planet, that's not so unheard of.


Fretful Porpentine said...

Well, but you had in fact not only read but re-read the text, right? That counts as fully prepared on my planet, which I think I shall call Planet Fullassery after this.

Flavia said...

Well, "re-read" in the sense that I last read it five years ago!

Doing the reading and having a lesson plan at least sketched out = fullassery.

Doing the reading but having no lesson plan = halfassery.

Doing neither = noassery.

The real question is what to call it when you HAVE a lesson plan but HAVEN'T done the reading recently, which is unfortunately what I often do in Shakespeare with plays I know pretty well (and which I did all the time in Brit Lit I, when I wound up teaching an identical syllabus for four consecutive semesters). I consider that to be halfassery, too, but without the panic and adrenaline rush that to me are at least partly redemptive: if you feel guilty about halfassing it, that's a kind of virtue, surely.

Fretful Porpentine said...

So in other words, I am confused, and the planet where I live a fair bit of the time is actually called Noassery? Awesome!

phd me said...

20 minutes? That's about my timetable these days! I feel awful for putting so little time into the lessons but it's about all I can do to show up for class these days. And it's probably not helping that I can usually pull it off since that just encourages the halfassery. I'm headed toward pedagogical disaster any day now.

Sisyphus said...

All hail to the Queen!

It's good to see someone from the home planet once in a while. And a royal half-ass-er-er, no less!

Flavia said...

PhD Me: yes, but do your 20 minutes also include taking nearly 5 minutes to buy a cup of coffee and nearly 10 to walk to the building your classroom is in? Didn't think so!

(Although I should confess that in my car on the way to campus I got stuck at one very long light--which I know to be a long light--during which I whipped out my book and started dog-earing pages. So, I had maybe 8 min of prep total.)

Flavia said...

Oh, and Fretful: upon a reconsideration of terms, I think you're right: doing NO prep is fullassery, and being totally prepped is noassery. I lost sight of what the "assery" is supposed to convey--which is, I think, the embarrassing exposure of same in full or in part?

Sisyphus said...

I just had to add that when I Googled "halfassery" and "definition" my blog came up as the top choice ... you'll need to post more on this Flavia!

Horace said...

Funny, this x-assery is precisely what will happen in my classes tomorrow!

T.E. said...

So your Shakespearean colleague, he's fairly new, yes?

I'm not sure I'm sold on the ass-half-full semantics. Will have to think about this one. This may provide enough etymological entertainment to see me through till Thanksgiving break.

Belle said...

Well, y'all are the English types, so when you figure out stages of assery, please advise. It'd be so delightful to know at least what to call the stage of 'so what am I supposed to do today?'

Flavia said...

T.E.: Yes; he's of more or less my status. Very smart and very sweet, but definitely tightly-wound.

And please DO get back to us on this important semantic question! (Didn't you and Dr. V get involved in the debate, on my old blog, over whether the expression "giving he@d" was an example of metonymy, synecdoche or something else entirely? I don't recall how that one ended.)

And Sis: my apologies. It seems that you, truly, are the monarch-by-right of Planet Halfassery!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I think an ass is a unit of measure.

Hence, half-assing something is only putting in half the required effort, while an ass-ton is quite a bit.


Thoroughly Educated said...

I did participate in that debate at the old blog, though I don't remember how it ended, either, or even what position I took!

Scrivener said...

I almost never went into class with a clear-cut lesson plan. I spent quite a bit of time thinking about possible avenues of discussion, but only rarely tried to go in with a real plan. The classes where I did have a lesson plan were always my lamest classes, too. I say kudos to you.

Flavia said...

So for the nonexistant readers who are still interested in this question, the first citation for "half-ass" is from 1863, but that term (and the later "half-assed") seem really to have entered the lexicon in the late 1920s and 30s--according to the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (which is my all-time favorite reference work, not least because it reveals that every word you've ever read has some grossly offensive secondary or tertiary meaning).

Irritatingly, there's no suggestion as to what the "ass" refers to, but since the expression seems to have been particularly popular in the military, I'm sticking with my interpretation: to half-ass something is to go about it sloppily, as if with one's ass hanging half out.

And as for the "head" question: according to the same reference work, "head" was commonly used in the late 19th/early 20th C. as a metonymy for "mouth" ("as a source of offensive or inappropraite talk"--e.g., "shut your head"), and it was ALSO, in the mid-20th C., a slang term for a young woman (cf. "broad").

So I stick by that earlier claim, too: the phrase is a metonymy. (I'm not linking to that earlier post, because it's on a totally different, boring subject and the interesting part is all in the comments--but it's easily findable through a Google search.)

Sisyphus said...

Such a fascinating discussion --- so it's true, what they told me: all you need to be an English major is know the bible and have a dirty mind!

Anonymous said...

is that an ass-ton or an ass-tonne? An ass-tonne is equivalent to a metric butt-load, i think....