There are times in teaching where it is important to hold a hard line. When you are enrolled in one my courses you are learning about fiction and poetry and nonfiction. You are also learning about grammar and sentence structure and style. In addition to all the academic material, you are also learning organization, responsibility and accountability. You will come to class prepared. You will participate. You will complete the in-class and out of class assignments. You chose to be here, so it is up to you to make it work. I will do everything in my power to help you succeed, but at the end of the day, you have to do the work. And it is hard work.
When I got my first job as an adjunct at the community college where I am now full time faculty member, I was not at all prepared. I learned to be flexible and “roll with it” fairly quickly, but the learning curve was steep to say the least. One important lesson I learned very early on was not to be afraid of new ideas, technology, or formats when it came to teaching. In the year and half I spent as an adjunct (2007/2008) these are some of the “new things” I tried:
- 8 week courses
- 12 week courses
- Guest speakers
- Student Presentations
- Group Presentations
- Computer Labs
- Power Point Presentations
- Using media in class (video & audio)
- Using supplemental material outside of the required textbook
- Using film
- Becoming a faculty advisor for a student creative writing group
- Subbing for other English courses/instructors
- Incorporating creative writing techniques into my comp courses
- Copy editing the student lit mag, New Voices
- Mentoring new adjuncts
- Using short stories for the in class essay assignment. Among my favorites were The Lottery, The Yellow Wallpaper and A Good Man is Hard to Find.
- Using Annie Dillard’s opening paragraph from A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek to introduce the narrative essay assignment.
- Using movie/music reviews from The New Yorker to introduce the evaluation essay assignment.
- Requiring students to pick a local non profit as the subject for their evaluation essay.
- Requiring students to interview a faculty member to practice interview skills for evaluation essay.
- Requiring students to prepare a 5 minute informative presentation over their research paper topic. This included a brief power point presentation, so they could learn what and what not to do.
- Using current periodicals such as The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Nature, The Christian Science Monitor, etc to find topics for their research paper.
- Creating an evaluation guide for online sources (still fairly new territory at the time)
- Creating APA Guides and worksheets
- Developing an annotated bibliography assignment
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Giselle Potter
- Committee work
- Online classes
- Academic panels and/or presentations
- Participating in some professional development activities (cooking class & faculty book club)
- Advising for Phi Theta Kappa
- Working with the Honors College
- Re-writing English 111 (comp)
- Attending conferences
- Organizing events for National Poetry Month
- Co-advising for our student lit mag, New Voices
- Continuing to advise for our creative writing group, The Blank Page
This entire post is sparked by yet another new endeavor I am embarking on this spring. I will be teaching a section of Honors World Lit I on a new platform. This new project is allowing me to design a course using brand new technology, which means I have to learn said technology. Today, I had a meeting with course designer who is my partner in crime on this project, and I left the meeting feeling a tad overwhelmed but mostly I felt excited to start something new.
The face of education is constantly changing, and as a result, the role of the professor in the classroom is also changing. However, I would argue that instead of becoming less important, as some people seem to fear is the case, I think we are becoming more important. That being said, we need to be willing to stretch and learn along with our students.
In addition to my regular course load at my community college, I am a faculty advisor for our student run creative writing group, The Blank Page. I started the group when I was still an adjunct and students approached me looking for another venue in which they could share and improve upon their own work.
Haunted Houses provides a unique way of understanding our relationship to the spaces we inhabit, and reflects romantic and dystopian notions of the domestic realm. The notion of hauntedness activates and highlights the home, revealing the hidden narratives and possibilities of everyday life.
Botz went about taking photographs and collecting oral recitations of the ghost stories that go along with some of the photographs. You can listen to the stories here. The photographs are gorgeous and the stories are very interesting. I was even more intrigued by this project when I learned that one of the locations and stories took place in Girard, PA which is about ten minutes from Fairview, PA where my parents still live. This is the photograph from Girard:
|“Farmhouse, Girard, Pennsylvania” from the series Haunted Houses,|
Anyway. When I looked through the pictures, I thought they would make great prompts for my Blank Page students, so this afternoon we spent about half an hour free writing over selected images from Botz’s project. After we had finished writing, we debriefed a bit and the student response seemed positive. The general consensus seemed to be that the images provided specific details that the students could latch onto and use as a starting place for a poem or piece of prose. I’ve done this exercise for units on character, setting and story and I think Botz’s photographs are perfect inspirations for writers.
Also received word last night that three of my poems will be appearing in Rust + Moth.
I have written before about the contrast between the student I was during my undergraduate career at Allegheny College and the students I teach at my community college. In some ways, our experiences are similar but mostly, they are vastly different. When I was an undergraduate, I worried about my coursework, my roommate, my sorority, my extracurricular activities and what party I was going to on Friday night. This is not to say that I didn’t deal with heavier issues, but my one and only job when I was in college was to be a student. That was it. My students are not just students; they are parents and employees. Their jobs are many and their responsibilities are great. Their situation is no better or worse than mine was but it is different.
For several semesters, I have had the great fortune of teaching an introductory level creative writing course at my community college. The popularity of the course has increased by leaps and bounds since I began as an adjunct here in the fall of 2006. As a full time faculty member, I am privileged to teach two or three sections of the course a semester and it is by far my favorite course.
- Harry Potter
- Darth Vader
- Charlie (Perks of Being a Wallflower)
- Christian Grey (50 Shades of Grey)
- Walter White (Breaking Bad)
- Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)
|Oh my lovely…|
- Bright orange loafers and green purse arrived in the mail.
- Creative writing student blog posts.
- Hot coffee in a big mug.
- Student submissions to community college lit mag.
- Fresh fruit cup from the food court.
- Possibility of teaching a second section of Honors English next term.
- A good friend and office mate.
- Wegman’s mushroom masala sauce.
- Moose Tracks ice cream.
- A fun weekend on the horizon.
- A 9:00 AM meeting that made me nervous and annoyed.
- Confusing/inconsistent college policy.
- A thick gray sky that hung around all day.
- A freezing cold office.
- Absurd emails clogging my inbox.
- Vague statements on grading rubric.
- Aching muscles.
- Deep weariness.
- Gray hairs.
- Alarm clocks.
- Excuses from students.
|I typed in Seasonal Affective Disorder and this is what popped up on Google Images. Courtesy of Sarah Douglas.|
1. One of my online creative writing students informed the class that she had visited a shaman at the end of the last term and that he had advised her to write more for her spiritual health.
2. At the end of my Tuesday morning class, a young man came up to my desk, shook my hand, and told me he was looking forward to the class.
3. When asked about favorite writers, one student replied, “I like Bukowski because he was a drunk and never edited his poems.”
4. My students use words like “macabre” and “plethora” and they use them correctly!
5. When taking attendance, one of my students informed me she wanted to be called “twin” because she has an identical twin sister.
6. Only in a creative writing class will you get questions about sex, drugs, cussing and mental illness when it comes to content. Only in creative writing will I say, “Go for it.”
|Some of my creative writing students at the IMA’s 100 Acre Park.|
7. Not one of my creative writing students has asked me “do I need the book?” (see previous post)
8. I have several students who admitted that they “liked to write poetry” the first day. Hallelujah!
9. Several of my students claimed that they were enrolled in creative writing because “they were good at it.” Whether this is true or not, isn’t particularly relevant. What is relevant is that they are coming to the class with a type of confidence that you don’t find in intro level classes.
10. Some of them were smiling before class began and they were still smiling after class was over.
Today marked my return to school after a two week break. Today also marked the first day I have felt halfway normal since New Years Eve. I managed to get up, shower, go to work, take the dog to the vet and (gasp) go workout. Watch out guys, I’m back.
But I digress.
I returned to my office to find my plant badly in need of water and also a boat load of emails. I don’t check email over break. I put up my out of office message on the day grades are due and I’m out. The emails were fairly mundane. There were several notifying me of various technical updates that had occurred over break, some messages about the Spring 2013 academic calendar that has apparently changed three times in 24 hours, and a lot of spam. Among these unassuming messages, were three emails from students. All of these emails came from students in the same class, English Composition online, and they all asked essentially the same question: Do I have to buy the book for this course?
Now, I understand textbooks are exorbitantly expensive. I don’t like it and I agree with students when they complain about how half of their financial aid goes towards said textbooks. That being said, this is an introductory writing course and its online. There are no face to face lectures, question/answer sessions or conferences. Online students certainly are welcome to come in and chat with me, but let’s face it, they don’t. Because there is no face to face contact, the textbook is even more important (in my opinion) in an online class than it would be in a traditional course.
The short answer? Yes, you need to buy the book.
My favorite one of these emails was from a young man who has apparently already completed English Composition one time but he received a B in the course, and he “really needs an A to get into his physical therapy program,” so he already went through the course without the textbook, but feels the need to “double check with me” about doing so again. I was tempted to reply with, “Well, Student X, perhaps if you buy the book this time it will give you that extra edge to get you that much needed A.” However, I showed restraint and simply gave him the only answer I can really give to an adult college student: “It is your choice.”