In medias res

Friday, October 18th, 2013

I’m in the middle of comp exams right now.

Like right smack in the middle, to use a cliché.

And, so yeah, I’m in the middle. In medias res. Halfway.

Sometimes when I run into colleagues they will ask me, “how are comps going?” and since I can only gauge my own performance at this point since no one in my program is told if they pass or not until after orals, I just say, fine, or that it is moving along, but mostly I’ll stick to the facts and just say that I completed my two timed essays and I am halfway done. I just need to write the longer two-week essay and complete the orals. After the orals, I’ll know how comps went, but until then I do not know. I feel like when I respond to this that I am starting to sound robotic.

The thing is that I do not know anything about how it is really going, though I feel I have done OK up to this point. At this moment, I am simply doing what I am supposed to be doing: writing, thinking, reading, and putting that on repeat, though this week I did get kind of a break as I wait for the third part of comps to start on Monday when I get asked a question for an essay I write in two weeks time.

As for what I have done so far, I will admit that I was less nervous for the first timed essay than I was for the second timed essay. This part to me is interesting because I thought it would be the opposite. But before the second essay, I was almost pacing around my department looking for a colleague who always says sweet and nice things to people because I just needed to hear something encouraging. I am not normally the kind of person who needs that sort of thing, and quite honestly I am more than happy to be equivalent to background noise or not mentioned at all, but on that day I totally needed to hear someone say I would do awesome. And luckily, a colleague on Twitter did come to the rescue and it totally helped me get it together for the second essay.

So will I be nervous for Monday’s question for the two week essay? For sure, but I know I will have two weeks and not four hours, or really two hours if you think of it that way, since you basically answer two questions in four hours. But I am also oddly excited/curious about what question the committee will ask and what it will get me thinking about. Did I mention I am damn glad I don’t have to write this in four hours? So glad.

Finally, while comps is stressful and has caused others I know to seek therapy and understandably so (so far I am doing OK), I like the moments where suddenly you know where you are going and you just go and start writing and keep writing and you feel like maybe you are smart and have something interesting to contribute after all the sources you have read in preparation for this. It is like grabbing for the first cup of coffee in the morning on the first day at a new job you are excited and nervous about (though comps should not be compared to this, but I needed a conclusion & I am tired & not very witty right now). You aren’t sure exactly what to expect, but you know you have been waiting for this and you are interested in the journey.

That is probably it. You are ready for the journey.

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A little advice for noob teachers

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

I’ve had a pretty good couple of weeks. I’ve finished my comps reading. I’ve been enjoying teaching my grant and proposal writing class. A colleague was even kind enough to share with me a compliment a former student made about my teaching.

Since a lot of my work has revolved around not only comps, but teaching a new class with new preps, I’ve been reflecting on teaching quite a bit. This is my seventh year of teaching. Recently I found old files from my first year of teaching, when I taught composition, and felt that mixture of shock, slight embarrassment, and hilarity while I read through those documents. I remembered getting student evals while a beginning teacher and one of the better ones I remember was “Someday Jessica will be a good teacher.”

That evaluation from a student you can probably read in a number of ways. One way is that I wasn’t a strong teacher at that point. Another one, and the one reading I have held on to is that the student saw something in me that maybe I didn’t see at the time and something that told me that I was in the right profession. It was an affirmation.

Now, seven years later, I think I can say that I am a fairly competent teacher. Sure, I still get students who don’t like my class, but so far their feedback has told me it is mostly for the content–it is a writing class and it is a required class and therefore it is a stumbling block toward their desired career. I have had students who didn’t respond well to me on a personal level and made it personal in their evaluations, and those are the kind that you just ignore because you are not their to get people to like you. But, mostly, my evaluations are very positive and I think I saw some of my strongest evaluations from this past spring semester (and I feel I need to thank the teacher I shadowed for the class I taught last spring as well. He is also a very competent teacher.)

But with this, I have been thinking of things that I wish I had been told as a new teacher, as the noob in front of the classroom. So here are some things, but realize this is not a comprehensive list and it just a list that relates to my own experiences in the classroom and what has worked for me and those things that have worked for me may not work for you.

  • Get anonymous feedback from your students: If you aren’t sure how you are holding up as a teacher, or if you are unsure of how students are responding to the content, ask  them, but make it anonymous. Also, be honest and explain why you are asking for this feedback. Finally, make sure you actually read and respond to the feedback for the students. For example, I asked my afternoon grant class for feedback recently because I was not sure how they were getting the course content, and so I asked. I found that there were a couple who needed a review of the logic of proposals and more that sometimes found the worksheets from the textbook were confusing (they are sometimes confusing). And so the next day in class I reviewed information on proposal logic where I tried to explain it in a different way and I also asked them to bring their textbook next week so we could use that to contextualize the worksheet on the benefits section of the proposal, since that is probably one of the more confusing worksheets anyway. I also explained how when I took this class, I also found the worksheets confusing at times, but using the textbook to contextualize them usually helps. What I found by doing this is that students appreciate you took the time to respond to the feedback they gave and start to trust you more as an instructor. So even if you are having a really rough semester, this will help you gain that respect and structure back.
  • Don’t take too many shortcuts in grading: I know this is tempting. I know it is tempting to create a list of comments and just copy and paste them into papers. I actually did it during my second year as a teacher, but I don’t recommend it unless you also take the time to make the feedback personalized, but even then it may be a big time waster to even create a list of comments to copy and paste. I know it sounds time-consuming and almost painful, but take the time to give individual feedback to each student on their paper. To ease up the workload, it may even be helpful to ask for drafts and comment on those so when you actually have to grade, you can ease up on the commenting. The reason I say this is because students do talk with one another about the feedback they get, and if they notice you are repeating things, word for word, they will have less respect for you, and probably rightly so. I realize that sometimes things do sound similar, but at least put an individual spin on it by addressing the feedback to them or contextualizing the feedback with their actual language in the paper. It also shows them that you actually took the time to care about their work. 
  • Prepare for class: During my first year of teaching, I do remember having 30 minutes before class started and not knowing exactly what I was going to do that morning in class. I also remember coming up with lesson plans as i was starting my computer. Please don’t do things like this. Students have written that they appreciate that I put time into my teaching agendas and that I come to class organized. If you come to class and you, as the teacher, look like you are not organized or have no idea what is going on, you will only find that your job becomes more difficult. This doesn’t always mean writing a lesson plan and putting it on an overhead, like I do, but simply knowing the material for the day. It is also helpful if you relate the layout of class for that hour to your students so they know what is coming up during that class period. I think the only thing that ever got me through those “last minute” days was that I am a good problem solver and a relatively quick thinker and sometimes I work good under pressure. If you can’t say any of those things about yourself, don’t even try this. But mostly, don’t do this. Ever.
  • Remember that you know the content better than your students: This is probably the most useful bit of advice/pep talk I was ever given during my first year of teaching. You will have students who intellectually are smarter than you, so having this in mind is super helpful to you as a teacher. You also will have students that are very dispassionate about your class, particularly if you teach a required general education requirement as I do. If you realize and understand that you know the content of that course better than they do, things will always go much smoothly and you will just feel more confident.
  • Meet students on their level: If you are teaching a class where students are in a particular profession, like engineering or business, start reading professional journals and news articles in those fields. Then, when teaching, bring up some of that information during discussion or activities. Seriously. Not only does it show that you also know some of the information they know, but it helps you integrate that information into the course as a whole. I know in a FYC class, or any first year class, this may be a difficult task, but you know how you always have that one student who likes to show off what he or she knows. Yeah. That student’s major/field may be something you want to look into. Sometimes it helps, and sometimes it doesn’t, but it is worth trying. And I really was taught this from the instructor I shadowed for Business and Technical writing. I saw how he used that knowledge in his lessons and I saw how much respect he earned from his students for that work, and so it is an invaluable activity. And  relevant news and information sources on Twitter in those fields can be really useful to learn some of this information, so it really isn’t as time-consuming as you may think. And to add to this, you could also add simply knowing what is going on in the field you are teaching. Students also notice this and respect it.
  • Stop any disruptive behavior ASAP: This is something that even I need to get a bit better at, but if you see a student acting disruptive (talking during lecture, coming in late frequently, etc) call it out. Realize that this kind of behavior not only disrupts what you are trying to do as a teacher, but also annoys other students. A recent example for me would be the student who answered the phone and had a conversation before class. Even though it was before class started, I still talked to that student by letting her know that it probably wasn’t wise to let every student in the room in on her plans. Sometimes it helps to talk to students outside of the classroom about these issues, or at least for me that is most effective, but sometimes it takes time to understand how to approach this as sometimes students get more disruptive once they are called out in class. But no matter what, make sure you respond to any behavior that you find disruptive to you and your students.
  • Be consistent: Always be consistent. When you find what works for you in the classroom, keep doing that. For me, I find that writing out teaching agendas, going over the tasks for the day immediately, and sharing the homework for the coming class period and repeating that at the end of the period is the best approach for me. It emphasizes my organization, my focus on tasks, and responds to my introverted nature since I know that as a student myself I like to know what is going to happen in class that day instead of just dealing with it happening as it goes along. I like to know if I will be doing group work, individual work, or both during a class period beforehand and so I share this with my students. And I don’t deviate from this at all because it is what works for me.
  • You don’t know the answer to a question? You will get back to them next class: Yes, I have been asked questions I could not answer. Yes, during the first and second years of teaching I tried to fake it. Don’t do it. Just tell the student they asked an interesting question, but a difficult one, and so you need to look that information up and get back to them. One time I did this, I had a student slightly snicker. I responded with the fact that even though I am teaching a college class, I am not a Google search and so sometimes I do need to look that information up. Student never snickered at me again. But all other times I have done this have gone well, thankfully. And yes, I always was able to find the answer for the next class period, so far anyway. Just realize you do get tough questions, and sometimes highly philosophical ones, and you cannot prepare for those on the spot, so just say that was an interesting thought and that you will respond to it during the next class. These also sometimes create fun discussions.
  • Don’t be married to your lesson plan or teaching agenda: Students are people. People have emotions. Sometimes you may have what you think is a fun activity for the day, and notice it isn’t working. Don’t force it. Find another way to relate that information, or if you can, work on it another day and move onto something else. This is partly why I try to write the entire week’s teaching agenda’s before hand. This is why I always have a syllabus schedule. This is why you always have a Plan B and even a Plan C. Things don’t always go as you expect them to, and so don’t force it. Note how your students are reacting and respond thoughtfully.
  • Don’t lie about your teaching experience: When I started teaching, my mentors told me that if I want, I could say I have taught before, if I felt I needed that extra confidence in the classroom. I even heard this when I sat through the TA training class for my PhD. I don’t recommend doing this unless maybe you are a really good liar and you know you could pull it off. I could not pull it off and I feel like, at least for me, saying that I had taught before during my first semester of teaching backfired, so I made sure to be honest my second semester. I feel that students can figure out if you have experience or not anyway, so it is best to be honest if you are unsure if you can get away with it. Just remember no one is going to walk into that classroom and be awesome right away. It takes time, so be honest about the time you have or have not spent in front of a classroom. 
  • You are not there to be their friend: This was the hardest lesson for me to learn. You are not their to be your students’ friend or get them to even like you. That is not the point. The point is to teach them the course content to the best of your ability. If they don’t like that or you, oh well. You are doing your job.

Like I said, the list is not exhaustive and maybe contains some things that are skipping ahead of new teacher status, but I think it contains some thoughtful and affirming advice and I’m interested in hearing what other advice other teachers have for the less experienced, or noob, teacher.

Almost. Finished. Reading.

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

I’ve almost made it through all my reading for the comprehensive exams.

Almost.

After reading five essays today, I stopped and took a count of what I had left. Seven. I have seven left. And that is pretty good if you take a look at my list. (Note the strikethrough may not be updated) But yeah. Seven. My mom always said I was a trooper, but I don’t ever think she had this in mind.

I wish I could give you an adequate timeline for when I started and when I will finish. I think I started around July 12, at least for real started. I probably will be able to finish this weekend and that would be Sept 28-29, and that is good since I start comps on October 7. That means I may actually also get some time to do some in-depth review before I take the first exam, which would be awesome and make my life easier. I also plan to type up some important quotes from my notebooks to make the writing of the timed exams easier.

I would like tell you that being this close to done takes a lot off my plate, but it really doesn’t, or at least it doesn’t feel that way to me. I feel like everything is just starting. It is as if finishing reading is just a prelude, as if this is just the preface. I feel like reading was the easy part, or one of the easier parts, though to be frank it has been one of my favorite parts of pursuing my doctorate so far, as much as I have maybe told my friends that reading for comps felt like “the project that never ends.” But I learned a lot and even today I read through two essays that i think will be influential in my dissertation and that is pretty cool. I’m excited about that. Now I am left wondering about what the rest of this process will look like and what ideas I’ll come up with during the process. I usually come up with my better arguments as I write, and come up with my better ideas when I am not writing, but just thinking about what to write. So this will be interesting, for sure.

I wish I could say something new and unique to sum up and conclude, but I really don’t know. In fact, I may know less than before. The only difference now is that when I read some secondary articles in authorship or creative writing, I can say hey, I have read that scholar. I know that work. I know exactly what you are talking about. Yeah. Ok.

After the first week and some good advice

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

On Thursday, I finished the first week of teaching for my grants and proposals class. Overall, it went pretty well and I think I have a good group of students this semester and I’m definitely excited to be back in the classroom. One thing that I noticed that is different about my class in comparison to the other upper division writing classes I have taught is that I spent most of this first week basically talking students away from the ledge.

To give some perspective, grant writing and research has a bit of a reputation of being “hard.” I put hard in quotation marks because I see it more as challenging and not hard. Yes, grant writing and research is challenging. Yes, it takes a lot of writing and revision. Yes, it takes a lot of communication with others. But I always try to tell students that even though this class is a lot of work, it is going to pay off in the end because no where else will you have the ability to practice grant writing skills, get feedback, and have constant encouragement the whole time. Plus, taking this class is actually saving you money considering how much it costs to learn these skills from other organizations that charge buckets of money for the same information.

Telling students that usually puts it in perspective, and my 5pm section got this right away when one student said, “wow. we are getting a good deal here.” Indeed, you are getting a good deal. I could also remind them about how at our university, they are receiving a fantastic education and won’t be straddled with as much debt as someone who attended an ivy league or top tier school, but I didn’t go into that. I figure that they probably know this anyway since they all are juniors or seniors, or at least they better know this.

So while I was talking students away from the ledge this week, I kept thinking back to some advice I was told as a new graduate student as I entered my MA program back in 2006. The advice is this, and it is deceptive in its simplicity: get the work done, treat yourself well, and stay away from the jerks. When I was told this the first time, I thought oh, for easy. I can do that. In reality, this is advice that is much harder than you immediately think.

Getting the work done, at least for me, is usually the easy part. I love work. I love what I do. I work probably too much. I can definitely get the work done. Not a problem. Treating yourself well is the next bit of advice, and sometimes I maybe need to follow this better than I do. While I do make sure to get in my required hours of Netflix viewing and reading for pleasure, I could probably stand to take a whole day off or two here and there, especially since I kind of have four day weekends (which, by the way, is already wigging me out a bit in the sense that i have to remind myself if it is Saturday or Sunday or what day it is). But at the same time, I kind of don’t have four day weekends since I also have to read for my comprehensive exams coming up this fall. (Meeting is next Monday, ya’ll!) So that is something I know I need to pay more attention to. Finally, staying away from the jerks sounds easy enough, but sometimes you are surprised by who turns out to be a jerk and who doesn’t. Admittedly, while I think I am ok at reading people, I sometimes don’t understand their intentions the best. Thus, I make mistakes in judgement. I’m trying to get better at that. And it is awkward to try to explain to someone the reason you have not hung out lately is because that person is kind of a jerk. So it goes.

But the point is while I was talking these students down and away from that ledge, and I could understand their feelings since I have also taken this class as a student, I thought back to that advice and honed in on it. I told them a lot of this work is collaborative, so while it looks like a large amount of work, it isn’t as bad as it seems outwardly. The collaboration will help create a good final product. But at the same time, it is also important to have fun with this and be creative. So yes, while they have a lot of work to get done this semester, just like how I do, they also need to give themselves downtime when appropriate and make sure they build good relationships with their team members. If they can do that, they will probably create some great projects and I am looking forward to seeing them.

Get the work done. Treat yourself well. Stay away from the jerks. I’ll just keep repeating that.

Feedback and making connections

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

First off, I do think it is important that we, as teachers, develop connections in the classroom with our students, though I think the older we get, the more we may find this difficult. For example, once you have been out of school for a while and find yourself less and less understanding what is “popular culture” to these students, the more you may find it difficult to foster those connections.

Of course, you can also do this through love of the subject matter, which we all as teachers should always have, and sharing that appreciation with our students, some of whom feel the same way we do about that subject or maybe parts of what we teach. Or maybe they just cling to our enthusiasm and reciprocate that. I mean, as a student myself, I’ve always appreciated the more passionate teachers and even if I didn’t particularly like the subject matter, I usually was able to connect on some level with a teacher who showed passion for the subject. I respected that. I compared it to my own feelings about writing and literature and in that way I was able to at least feel all right in the classroom, even when I struggled with the subject matter, though I still always hated being called on since it was something I struggled with (I am thinking math here).

One of the things that, for me as a teacher, has always helped foster these connections is encouraging feedback from students and encouraging their questions. For new classes, I usually ask for feedback a few times during the semester, I usually try to time it out in 3-4 week intervals, and that works pretty well in terms of being able to change things and improve them based on that feedback. Students also seem to appreciate the openness as well since the more you do it, and are consistent with it, the more helpful the feedback becomes. I’ve found that the more open I am for questions, and the more I make myself available for these questions, the better the class progresses. When teaching a new class, I think this becomes even more important since it is not only new material for the students, but also for you as the teacher.

Sometimes this feeling of newness causes an appropriate level of panic, even in us teachers. We think this like oh no, what if I am going to be exposed as a fraud? We also think things like oh my, I have to make myself even more available for questions now since this material is as new for me as it is for them. And this kind of thinking sometimes leads to what I call crazy ideas, such as giving way too much personal information to students or allowing students to seriously contact you any time of the day, such as giving your phone number, even if you have a policy that states it can only be used during X amount of hours.Those ideas are all bad. For one, you are not teaching 24/7. Everyone needs time off. Everyone needs some level of privacy. For example, do we really want to hear about what our students did last Friday night? Not really. I am sure they wouldn’t want to know what we were doing either, though they may make up some funny or sad stories about it, if they wanted to. Giving too much information could lead to that information being abused, probably not by all students, but maybe one or two.

When I teach online, for example, there is the assumption with some students that because I teach online, I was always online and so if I didn’t answer their email within the hour they sent it, there was sometimes another email to follow, sometimes with all caps in the subject line. I mean, I could see this as amusing, and on some level it is now that it is in the past, but at the time all I could think was really? I am not online 24/7, much less do I typically check work email after 5 or 6 in the evening.

Because of this I’ve developed email policies that state a student should expect about 24 hours for an email reply during the weekday, but if a student emails Friday afternoon, that student may not get a response until Monday morning. I also never give my phone number out in my syllabus or elsewhere, even though I don’t have an office phone, though this has never been a problem since students typically email or talk to me after class or during office hours anyway. Though, I have given my number out to students who have had emergency or personal situations (a death of a parent and being 9 months pregnant, for example). In these instances, I thought it was OK and it wouldn’t be abused and it wasn’t abused.

But this isn’t to say that I don’t try to make it easier for students to contact me, as I am very concerned about my availability since I don’t have an office phone and because I am teaching a new class this semester, and so I have started to welcome students to use Twitter and given my course a hashtag so it is easier to ask me questions or communicate with me online. In my syllabus, I share my Twitter username @adventuresinphd and the course hashtag #engl459 so they can contact me with questions, share resources for the grant writing class, or just share any information they find relevant to the course. I encourage students to engage with the class using this as well. I also have them do a semester-long (or unit long, if they wish. I’m flexible to a fault) Twitter assignment that I have shared here.  I also had a similar assignment for my online summer class as well. Along with this, I also open a forum discussion thread in Blackboard for questions and encourage students to ask questions there as well as encourage students to answer, if they know the answer.

What I have noticed in doing this is that students will use whatever they are most comfortable with in terms of communicating with a professor and so far that has been email. I’ve had probably more students use the Blackboard discussion forum than Twitter, so far. But I also blame this on the Twitter assignment not being semester-long, only as long as an assignment. I think maybe a longer Twitter assignment will spark more engagement, or that is my theory, at least, though I also realize some students will be highly resistant, as is typical with social media assignments.

And so I guess I will just be updating you with how this all turns out. I feel teaching this grant writing class will in some ways be similar to getting thrown into the fire, but I always a like a challenge, so I guess I am OK with that. I know that, as a colleague has stated to me, it is probably the hardest class to teach in the upper division writing curriculum, and after writing the first unit, the agendas for the first two weeks, and the syllabus and schedule, I totally believe that.  I’ll keep you updated, as always.

On Bullies and why you try to be better, but aren’t.

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

I read this Jezebel article today and would like to tell you I had some feelings about it, and I don’t often like to have feelings, though I have to admit I have them from time to time. I just want you to know I don’t particularly like having feelings, though that isn’t the point. The point is that I know exactly, like to a T, how this girl feels, or I am pretty sure that I do. I was bullied in junior high as well, and that was probably where bullying happened the worst. Just to set the stage for that, one instance of bullying had a boy from my class write in ink on my favorite denim jacket a sarcastic “I’m cool.” I didn’t know about it until I got home and saw it on the back and was mortified. I remember going down to the basement laundry room to wash it off and hoping to goodness that my mom never found out about it.

There also were the “cool girls” or whatever (I doubt they had a name like “The Pink Ladies” of Grease) who I remember looking at me at school daily like I had something gross stuck to my face or caught in my hair. While I could recount awful, awful things these girls did, I’ll share a less traumatizing experience. When my friends decided to try out for cheerleading, after the “cool girls” responded negatively toward cheerleading, I remember one of the cool girls coming up to me and asking “are you trying out for cheerleading, too” in that tone that told me if I was about to try out for cheerleading, I just made her question every view of reality she had. No, I remember saying,  but didn’t bother explaining to her that I had no desire to wave a pom pom around.

Then I moved to a new school, so I have no idea what happened to any of these people, though I assume many of them just live in the town we lived in then, with families and kids and boring almost-upper-middle-class lives. The only thing I do know is that the girl who asked me if I was also trying out for cheerleading ended up being diagnosed with MS later in her life, along with her mom, and she does a lot with MS Walks for Life and other MS-related organizations in our community. Even though she is doing good works, I still wanna say, “karma is a bitch, isn’t it?” even though that is an awful thing to say and Karma exists throughout lives, and so on and so forth, if you have ever read anything about karma. So the karma comment is kind of irrelevant, and honestly, it is terrible she has such a debilitating illness.

Though bullies don’t just reside in junior high, as they also reside in adulthood. The thing is, bullying is way more passive-aggressive in adulthood and it is so much weirder, less in your face, and more regulated to people’s closed offices and some people simply call it gossip, though I think gossip can become a bullying mechanism as well. The thing is, as an adult, you know it goes on, but the less it becomes an issue, or a painful issue, though I would say it still sucks.  And I often wonder why they bother anyway. Is there something they are missing in their own lives? Are they upset by something you got that they didn’t? It must be something like jealousy, right? Or maybe just stunted personal growth? The good news is, of course, it is easier to avoid as an adult. You can do tons of things to never hear about it, and that is I think what makes bullying different now as compared to bullying in junior high.

But, in the linked article, the author talks about that even though our old bullying tormentors have “moved on” as have we and now have their own lives, babies, etc, there is still a part of you that wants to respond thusly (and I’m having a lengthy quote here because I wanna give some context):

Sure she had the backyard trampoline and the boy-girl parties I coveted when we were 13, but some day my hard work would pay off and I’d leave town for a good college. I’d end up living somewhere far away from Wisconsin, somewhere like Boston (I was obsessed with Boston, due to bricks being a sign of class and also not knowing what class was). One day I’d be working a job I loved, I’d have a life rich with experience, a million stories for dinner parties. I’d travel. I’d know things. I’d know interesting people. I’d experience things she’d never experience. And that’s how I’d “win.”

But part and parcel to my “winning” was my middle school tormenter agreeing with my definition of what it means to live a better life than another person.  I’ve traveled the country and lived abroad, but I’ve had a string of relationships that didn’t work out including a failed engagement. I graduated from college and my job sitch is fantastic, but I live in an apartment around the corner from a liquor store that has to buzz you into the room where you can buy wine. I couldn’t be happier with my personal life, but I don’t own a car. I live in one of the most exciting places in the world and can do almost whatever I want almost whenever I want it, but I’m childless. I met all three Hanson brothers one time during a shoot and one of them winked at me but I’ve never been to a Green Bay Packers game. What I really want is for her to acknowledge that she wishes her life were different, that she wishes her life were mine.

For sure. I could write a similar paragraph. I stayed home writing stories and reading books convinced that someday it would pay off. It did. I like to remind people of this now and then. I think my life is pretty awesome. But that last sentence in that paragraph is so important. There is this crazy, delirious part of you on the inside that totally and completely wants the harassers from the past to come up to you and say, “you know, I wish I had a life like yours today.” Just once.

But of course, they probably never will, even if they felt that way.

The closest I ever came to such a statement from anyone who picked on me in the past was at my ten-year reunion. The person gave an acknowledgment to what I had done so far in my life, in just ten years, and they were impressed. I remember smiling and saying something like thank you and I enjoy my life a lot. That person lives in the town we grew up in, has a family, and works a job where there is No Degree Required. I think the person even owns a home. I, meanwhile, am still in school, though in a Ph.D. program, living on a GTA stipend, in an efficiency apartment, but I have no kids and I can pretty much do whatever I want if I have the time and money, with money being the real kicker.  While that person starts the weekend with making dinner and maybe making sure the kids are all ready for bed soon, I start my weekend with a movie and a beer and no kids to interrupt my dinner, drinking, or movie watching and it is my version of bliss. And like how Erin Gloria Ryan points out in her article, still linked above, there is no way you can really right all the wrongs of what happened before. It would come out sounding bitter and you would only become the bully, even if it would be a little cathartic and maybe, there was some catharsis for the bullies back then, too, though I have no foggy idea of what that could be.

How and Why I choose my dissertation topic

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

During my comps reading this summer, I finally decided on the topic of my dissertation. It is no longer the idea I once had pre-Computers and Writing, though I think that stuff will definitely play a role and may end up to be one chapter, if my layout of chapter ideas is to be believed. (I like planning. Do not judge. I am also very flexible.) At any rate, I think the comps process has been incredibly useful to me so far since I’ve come up with a few arguments already for my dissertation, some useful sources to integrate, and I think I chose my areas of study wisely.

I thought about the different ideas I had for my dissertation for a long time because there is so much I am interested in that it is hard to choose. But I also know i had to pick something that A. I could do in a relatively short amount of time, so I didn’t want to take on too much that was completely new, B. I wanted to choose something that wasn’t too narrow, where I would be pegged as “oh, she is the one who does underwater basket weaving” and just leave it at that, and C. something I would enjoy since people do “peg” you based on your dissertation work, which makes sense because you have spent an enormous amount of time on that work.

Some ideas I considered involved looking at the pedagogy of other art degrees (a whole new field, really, and I don’t have time for that) and new media studies (this will play a role, but it is no longer the focus. Plus, again, I have to learn a whole new area along with the creative writing). While pedagogy and some aspects of new media will play a role, my dissertation will be focused on areas of critical theory, creative writing studies, and gender. I chose these things because of the A, B  and C considerations above. I felt I could get this done in a reasonable length of time, it didn’t strike me as as narrowly focused as underwater basket weaving (though let’s be honest and say most dissertations are narrow in focus, though interdisciplinary as well, which is helpful) and C. I would enjoy being seen as the person who does creative writing studies, pedagogy and gender.

Is this the right choice? Yes. Are other parties who have the potential to hire me going to agree? I don’t have any idea, but I hope so and I think I could make arguments toward their needs, as long as I choose which jobs to apply for wisely myself. I just want to write something where I could say something like “oh, you are looking for someone who does equity studies? Well, my work with creative writing and gender has taught me…”

I mean, I know the realities of the job market. I’ve read what Rebecca Schuman wrote about “thesis hatement.” (I usually console myself by repeating, “I teach writing. I teach professional writing. We will always need writing.”) I’ve read the articles by William Pannapacker AKA Thomas H. Benton and in fact they were assigned to us during my first semester in my program (I had honestly already read them. I knew the story. I knew that I was getting myself into some potentially hot water, but I am grateful the professor had everyone read those and talk about them in class). I follow someone on Twitter who tweets quite a bit about the suckitude of the academic job market and try not to take it to heart, but at least learn from it. I’ve also worked as an adjunct, as many have, and still have nightmares about canceled classes and faculty members suddenly deciding they want to teach my online world literature course, but I wouldn’t mind teaching composition II, would I? (Disclaimer: I like teaching composition. I do not like teaching composition online when you fill it with 40 students and I’m also teaching at another university and taking classes at a doctoral student. That semester was a nightmare.) I’ve read about alt-ac tracks and how to transfer “soft skills.” But I still want a teaching job, like hundreds of others out there. But I’ve also seen how bitter people can get, and I do not wish to be bitter, though I am sure no one sets out to be bitter.

So, in choosing my dissertation focus, I took the job market into consideration as well. I guess you could say that was my D. criterion.

Some people may read this and say, what a list of stupid reasons to choose a dissertation topic and maybe that is true. But passion and love don’t pay the bills or get you jobs all the time, either. What I can tell you is that I will enjoy the topic and enjoy writing it, though I know the whole process will have its moments of suckitude since I still very well remember my five to six hours a day writing my MA thesis, which came to five chapters. And, to be honest, I didn’t put the same level of thought into my MA thesis before I started writing it. I wanted to think about it more this time and luckily I had the luxury to do so. I suppose if nothing else, I can say I took the time to really consider my options and weigh them and I think weighed them well, considering the knowledge and experience I had at the time.

How do you use Twitter in your classroom?

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

So I’ve been working on the assignments for my Grant writing class this fall and paying close attention to how I set up the twitter since it is entirely new and I’ve never taught Grant Writing before, as the most I’ve done is led some mini-lessons, so this will be new.

I figured there are two ways I can approach and use Twitter in this class that I think could work out well considering past experience with Twitter in the classroom:

  1. Have each student create an individual account where they follow organizations who promote or work with issues the student is interested in. For example, if the student is interested in looking at gender issues for their final project, they could follow organizations related to gender, such as gender in education and so on. They would do this throughout the semester, engage in a number of tweets and retweets, and be graded on elements of consistency, engagement and design. This is a brief overview of the assignment I have written up.
  2. The second option involves a group twitter profile that they create for the Mary’s books proposal. The Twitter would represent their company and they would tweet about their projects, such as Mary’s books, follow relevant organizations and basically this would be a type of fictional account, since the company does not really exist. And i imagine that there may be a group in the class who wishes to create a twitter presence anyway if we are already using Twitter. There is always one group that really enjoys this project and does a lot with it, or at least this is true from what I have seen in the class.

While I think #2 could be fun, I ultimately choose number one because when I took this class as a student, I had no idea what I wanted to do for my final project. I was new to my program. I had no remote idea of what I wanted to pursue for a dissertation. At the same time, I wanted the project to count for something beyond the class, which sadly didn’t happen, but that is mostly my own fault. So my main motivation for writing out the assignment related to number one is because of my own experience and the fact I have thought way more about option #1 than number two. Plus, I’ve had students do similar assignments in my Business Writing class and in my Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences class.

But my questions are how do you use Twitter in your classroom and do you have any feedback for the ideas above? I welcome any suggestions or further ideas. Thank you. Below is the assignment I have created, so feel free to use it in your own classes if you think it sounds interesting:

Twitter Assignment

Genre and Length: A social media profile to be completed throughout the course. 16 tweets/retweets total plus appropriate design and followers/follows

Due Date: The final exam time, TBA. Please email your twitter profile address to me or follow me on Twitter at @adventuresinphd

Assignment Description: You will be asked to first create a Twitter profile (www.Twitter.com) for use in following organizations related to your social, political, and personal interests and other non-profit entities and/or people who are involved in non-profit organizations you are interested in to learn more about issues, discussions, and other information relating to your interests. With this assignment, you will be required to tweet relevant material that is related to these interests or goals. This means you will have to do some research on your own to learn more about these interests and/or find relevant news articles. You will also have to retweet your followers as well if something they tweet is relevant to your own interests, goals or motivations. I ask that you follow at least 10 organizations/people/etc, but you may follow more. I ask that you have at least 16 tweets and retweets meaning 8 tweets and 8 retweets during the semester, but you may have more. Each tweet and retweet should be relevant to your goals and motivations, which should be outlined on your short profile biography.

Purpose: Doing this will provide an excellent opportunity for you to see conversations regarding your interests that are happening now. Also, this may help to give you ideas for your final project. Also, using social media for organizations is very important, and I believe this assignment will give you good examples of how organizations use social media and get some practice doing it for yourself.

Rubric: Twitter Assignment

Content:

  • Tweets and retweets are 16 in total
  • Tweets relate to interests student chose to focus on, as reflected in 140 character bio
  • Student has followed at least 10 relevant organizations or people
  • Student has included other media when relevant, i.e. multimodal elements with video, pictures, or other links.

/50 points

Design and Consistency

  • Twitter profile has a professional design that is appropriate to the subject at hand
  • Tweets and retweets took place at different times throughout the semester, i.e. student didn’t do a number of tweets or retweets in last days or weeks.

/20 points

 

Engagement

  • Student shows an engagement with the audience and has an awareness of the audience in terms of organizations, tweets, retweets, tagging, design, etc.

/30 points

/100 points total

Disclaimer:  I place a lot of emphasis here on engagement, precisely because that has been my biggest concern in grading Twitter profiles. Students often don’t show any engagement–they just make sure they have the required amount of tweets, retweets, and followers and that they use multimodal elements. So if you do decide to teach Twitter, I would put emphasis on seeing how students are engaged in the task at hand, and you can do this simply by looking at the contextual/content quality of the tweets, who the student follows, if the student engages with their followers, if the student just did the required work in a week or so, and so on. I know the term “engagement” may be somewhat open ended, and I did my best to explain it in the assignment sheet and rubric, but just be open to the importance of emphasizing the quality of the work and not just the content of the work. Realize as well that you will need to emphasize this in class quite a bit and describe exactly what you mean by engagement to them and give them some good examples, via your own twitter profile and/or other twitter profiles.

Is the Creative Class just about the Creative Class? Maybe.

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

So, I read this earlier about Richard Florida and the creative class and how many cities, such as Michigan’s Cool Cities Initiative really fail because they basically make life better for us creative class types, but make the more blue-collar, working class suffer once basic living needs, such as housing, is taken into consideration. I have to admit that the more rational, logical part of me isn’t surprised, but my more creative self doesn’t want to admit this is true and that this is just another terribly biased article, which it probably is in its way. I remember reading Florida’s book on The Rise of the Creative Class for a class I took last academic year and thinking, yes, this is like me and I love this, and at the same time thinking, but what would happen to people like who my parents were when I was growing up? What about the working class? And while Florida discusses blue collar workers in his book, I couldn’t help but think they don’t really benefit from it, despite his arguments since I had never seen any evidence for it. When you are working class, you are far less likely to take in the latest community-sponsored play or see what is happening in your local arts scene. You are also far less likely to have completed a college education. So what does the creative class do for the blue-collar workers, or the working poor?

Sure, you may get a nicer community, but that also means the cost of living rises whereas your wages may not. You also get a group of people who care about schools, the arts, and just people who in general care about having leisure activities that aren’t about seeing how many beers you can drink after you clock out at five. But are the blue-collar workers going to care? I’ll admit I’ve been in my share of dive bars and seen them acknowledge, hey, we have a great city now; look at these young kids having a fantastic time and doing cool and interesting things, and oh, you are one of them! Fantastic!, but if you ask them how they benefit from it directly, they cannot say. They may mention their rent has went up in the last year or so and no, they have never been to Newest Hipster Hangout and what does that mean again?

I grew up on a farm and small towns. Farming communities have their share of middle class people because land is tied to money in our culture, which the government constantly reminds us in the form of taxes. But even with “rich farmers” I also knew a ton of working class people. My best friend in elementary school had two parents who were beautifully blue-collar and with them I felt like part of the working class, even though by the time I was in high school, my dad was a paid professional. Still, I saw how long it took for my parents to “catch up” on the socioeconomic scale. Having three kids didn’t help. While my mom held a number of jobs, she was mostly just a stay-at-home mom, which is a really great opportunity, if one can do it. And, as the oldest child, I probably still best remember what it was like before my dad finished his MS in Crop and Weed science and got better jobs. Now my parents appear to be doing great, but my dad is also partially retired and it took them so long to even get to that point. In a few days, they will have been married for 32 years, and that, as far as I am concerned, is a long time to do anything. And I know we were very lucky and things could have been far, far worse if it were not for my grandparents on my mom’s side and some of my dad’s extended family. Far, far worse.

But my past experiences as a child always make me concerned for what people term “the invisible poor” and/or “the working poor”. It is easy to not notice (or just plain ignore) the working poor in the community when you are not the working poor. I think about them far more than I should and worry about them and wish that there is more we could do as a community. I know initiatives exist, but the midwestern culture does not always look kindly upon people who are less than middle class because, as you know, bad things happen because you didn’t work hard enough.

I admit I am speaking entirely from bias and my experiences and while I admire Florida’s ideas and goals and want to believe strongly in them (and in some ways I do), I worry about them as well. What kind of culture are we really producing and who really benefits? I mean, I love the arts. I am a part of the arts community. But I know we cannot ignore the whole picture, either.

playing the pathos

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

I am going to start out this post by saying I’m single and I’d rather keep it that way. I also do not have any children and in all honesty, I’d rather keep it that way. I start out saying this because I am going to point to some realities that people could misconstrue, no matter my clarity and that my post here is not about the choices I have made. I am writing this post because this morning I was reminded of the kinds of choices we make, albeit indirectly, but still reminded of them, and these choices in some ways relate to what I feel I need to say.

To start out, I am going to tell you a hypothetical story, just out of fairness, and this hypothetical story will illustrate my point. Let’s say you are teaching a course and have a student who has children and is married. Let’s now say that this particular student is having a hard time keeping up with his or her work and has had a number of excuses or reasons for it throughout the course. (I’m not assigning a gender to this student since I think it is irrelevant. As far as I am concerned, anyone who has children has the same responsibilities to those children–or child—, regardless of gender. The same with being in a relationship.) When this student confronts you about the lack of work, the student likes to point to all the other responsibilities he or she has, such as children, family life, and so on. As a teacher, and because this student came to you before the due date, you give an extension. Still, this student seems to have a problem with this and seems to be looking for something you cannot give to him or her. This causes you, as the teacher, to feel frustrated as you explain over again that what they are asking for is not possible and that everything must be completed at X time, regardless of this student’s family life.

While this story is hypothetical, I promise you that it has happened. Even if you are not a teacher, I’m sure you can think of other instances that are similar to what is discussed above. I’m sure you have heard people give many reasons for not getting something done. The thing is while the student in the above situation is trying to play on the pathos, or emotional response, of the teacher, in my mind it is still irrelevant to the situation at hand. Pathos is part of the rhetorical appeals, but there is more to this than just pathos, and in the above case pathos does not have a lot of sway. Logos does since this is for a class for credit and most certainly ethos does as well because of power/authority distributions. We have the facts. The student signed up for the class. The student obviously knew he or she had to balance family, and school, along with any other obligations that student had, such as a job, or so one would think the student realized the obligations of taking the course coupled with other obligations. Therefore, it is not your responsibility, as the teacher, to try and make up for any of it.

And still, people play the pathos and think that should make a worthy argument. No. The point is that if you decide to do something, you better make sure that A. you can do it and be competent and B. nothing else suffers too much. And when I say “nothing else suffers too much,” I mean that yes, there may be sacrifices, like putting aside extra money for daycare or spending less time with someone or your family and you need to know if you are OK with making those sacrifices. If not, it is probably a bad idea.

Granted, I understand things happen that are out of a person’s control, but even so you still signed up for X and Y responsibilities. If you realize that no matter what you will not be competent, the best course of action is to say, yeah, I messed up. I probably shouldn’t have done that and apologize and walk away. I know we have all messed up from time to time and probably have reacted poorly. I guess I just wish as a society, we could respond to problems better. We are all kind of awful about looking to what is around us and making excuses and, worse yet, using the people and things around us as a personal crutch. It is kind of a disgusting human behavior that we need to stop, but I don’t think we will. I’ll just try to be better in the meantime and be as clear as possible, even though that sometimes doesn’t even seem to work as it should.