After a much needed 6-ish week break, I'm stepping back into the classroom tomorrow to meet a group of incoming freshman and to attempt in 5 weeks to prepare them for the rigors of college-level reading and writing. This week's Huffington Post article on teaching is so clear a reminder of the struggles of this occupation. Because the bottom line is, you can only do so much in the short time you're given. And it's not a 9-5 job; it's an every-spare-moment job. And some students just aren't ready for the material you need to throw at them.
Just a snippet of Peter Greene's brilliant metaphor:
Teaching is like painting a huge Victorian mansion. And you don't actually have enough paint. And when you get to some sections of the house it turns out the wood is a little rotten or not ready for the paint. And about every hour some supervisor comes around and asks you to get down off the ladder and explain why you aren't making faster progress. And some days the weather is terrible. So it takes all your art and skill and experience to do a job where the house still ends up looking good.
Teaching is rewarding, don't get me wrong, or I wouldn't keep going back to it. But oh, this break has been so very necessary to relax, regroup, and now it's time to regain a little energy to jump back into that crazy space where I attempt to be enough for my students (while still maintaining a social life and a professional dance career).
Read the full article: "The Hard Part" by Peter Greene on Huffington Post
Yes! I'm thrilled to see this article in The Atlantic about Why Teaching Poetry Is So Important. On a whim a few weeks ago, I threw some complex poems at my Writer's Mind class, a course for upperclassmen majoring in writing. The focus of the course isn't necessarily literature, but on how the mind of a writer functions, the rhetorical choices a writers makes and the elements and tools available to him or her. The class focuses on the process of writing, on being aware of and overcoming writer's block, and learning to articulate why certain decisions have been made in writing and revising. The kind of writing we practice is really up to the instructor, which makes this an exciting class to teach.
I wanted my students to practice writing about themselves, in particular, writing about the darker parts of themselves they generally don't share. The theory behind this is that if they can write about those dark, secret things, they can write about anything without fear or hesitation. At the last minute, I realized there could be no better way to approach this than through poetry. So in the 30 minutes before class, I threw out my initial plan and printed out copies of Sylvia Plath, Charles Bukowski, Billy Collins, and Sharon Olds, and hoped my students would be open to poetry. The results have exceeded my expectations.
After two class periods thoughtfully discussing not only the meaning and emotion behind these poems, but also the imagery, sounds, structure, and symbolism, my students wrote their own "shadow poems". They are blowing me away. We are workshopping them anonymously as a whole class, and while it is taking far longer than I planned, the conversations are insightful and exciting. Several students have asked if we can just keep doing this for the rest of the semester. The poems are intense, the feedback is constructive, and the revisions are promising. I am getting to know my students more deeply through this community building activity, and the techniques we are practicing will spill over into their other writing as well. While only a handful of the students in the class consider themselves creative writers, and even less poets (there are several education majors in the group) they are opening up and growing as writers and as people in new ways because of poetry.
As Andrew Simmons describes in his article:
"Poetry enables teachers to teach their students how to write, read, and understand any text. Poetry can give students a healthy outlet for surging emotions. Reading original poetry aloud in class can foster trust and empathy in the classroom community, while also emphasizing speaking and listening skills that are often neglected... Teachers should produce literature lovers as well as keen critics, striking a balance between teaching writing, grammar, and analytical strategies and then also helping students to see that literature should be mystifying. It should resist easy interpretation and beg for return visits. Poetry serves this purpose perfectly."
The proof is right in front of me in this group of students. I couldn't agree more.
Check out the full article here: Why Teaching Poetry Is So Important
The ever-so-brilliant Margaret Atwood presented her 10 rules of writing in The Guardian almost two years ago. I just stumbled upon them reposted on Brain Pickings and couldn't resist the urge to repost them as well.
My favorite rules of Atwood's are:
What are your rules for writing?
Read Margaret Atwood's full list of rules on Brain Pickings here:
And read the original article from The Guardian featuring rules from other writers, such as Jonathan Franzen, Neil Gaiman, and Joyce Carol Oates, here:
This article, and this quote in particular, perfectly sums up why I believe what I teach, writing and literature, provides students some of the most important skills they will gain in college.
"If you really think about learning, there are some master disciplines which unlock all the others. They are philosophy, history, mathematics, language (reading/writing), and science (mainly mastery of the scientific method). These disciplines form the core of learning and comprise the engine of its expression. The student who gains proficiency in these areas will maintain, for virtually the rest of his/her life, the capacity to learn new things and to organize those new things within the context of the older things. The learning that takes place in these areas does not really expire. It does not become dated. It is a fund that maintains its value. The same is not necessarily true of knowledge gained in professional programs."
read the full article here: "This College Professor has a Message for Liberal Arts Majors," The Federlist
To continue my diatribe on why literature matters (and by diatribe, I mean my string of quotes and articles suggesting such) a new study suggests that reading literary fiction as opposed to popular/genre fiction or popular nonfiction leads to greater emotional intelligence.
Somehow, I don't find this shocking at all. Makes perfect sense.
See the full article at the NY Times Blog: "I Know How You're Feeling, I Read Chekov"
"Art may not make anything better, but there is some power in recognizing that someone else has felt as you do, that your interiority, which seems especially in grief so unreachable, may in fact share a space with the inner life of another." - Mark Doty
Today, each year, so many of us reflect and think about where we were when we first heard about or saw the unbelievable historical event that has undoubtedly changed our country forever. Ultimately, I think it matters less where we were, what we were doing, how much we remember. What matters more is what followed. How we moved forward. Where we are today.
In that spirit, an article about the place of art in times of tragedy. Poetry matters, people. It does.
Can Poetry Console a Grieving Public? by Mark Doty
Apparently my blog is turning into a collection of article links about education. I promise I'll post something of my own now and then.
Buzzfeed may not be the most reliable of sources, but this is an interesting graphic produced by Online-PhD-Program.org discussing the problem of adjuncts in the university setting. Unlike some of the adjuncts described here, I've been fortunate enough as an adjunct to scrape together a 35k+ salary every year... But mostly this is because I teach twice the full time load, including summers, plus tutoring and advising every chance I get. I've also worked in coffee shops, taught dance classes, and done tutoring lower than the college level. After 7 years of adjuncting, I finally landed a 3/4 time job, but that means I still have to adjunct and don't get health insurance, pension (though I will be eligible for this later), paid sick/maternity leave, or professional development funding.
Most people would ask why people still adjunct if the pay and benefits are so abysmal. I don't know about others, but I continue to do it because I love teaching. I don't try to find a teaching job outside of the college setting because while I have a masters degree in my field, I'm not certified to teach, and the stability for teachers isn't much better than for professors. Additionally, this is what I've worked for. I worked hard for multiple degrees in English so that I could teach on the college level, but opportunities for professors have decreased so drastically since I began I couldn't have possibly known what I was in for. Now that I'm here, I can't imagine being happy doing anything else.
In some ways, the hardships of being an adjunct means those who are still teaching really do it for the right reasons - because they love it. For the students. This is a good thing, certainly. The problem is that the number of classes and/or extra jobs an adjunct needs to take on to make a living wage means that we have less time to give to each student who comes into our classrooms. I try to give my students as much time an attention as I can, but teaching 6 classes, sometimes spread out across 4 campuses means a lot of time spent in the car, time prepping for classes, time grading. All this means less time in my office being available for students, less time emailing them, less time writing detailed comments on their work. THIS is the real tragedy. Students with adjuncts for professors are learning from qualified, intelligent, passionate instructors... who just don't have as much time and energy to give them as they should.
While I seem to be transitioning out of the adjunct phrase of my career, some professors never do. I'm one of the lucky ones, though I'm still at an in-between, not quite at that coveted full-time, tenure-track position. I hope wherever my career takes me, I'll always remember how hard I worked as an adjunct, how underpaid and underappreciated I often felt, and I hope that I'll see a dramatic change within my lifetime so that those just starting out don't always have to scrape by the way I have.
Check out the graph here: "Everyone Loses When We Underpay Adjunct Professors"
More and more I come across articles online praising the humanities, the arts, and English majors in particular. As the public education system has been increasingly devaluing these areas, the greater public seems to be recognizing the need for more critical thinkers in the workforce, and more importantly, recognizing that this kind of thinking starts with the humanities and the arts.
This is a long article with many good things to say, but this excerpt is my favorite:
"Given the ragged magnificence of the world, who would wish to live only once? The English major lives many times through the astounding transportive magic of words and the welcoming power of his receptive imagination. The economics major? In all probability he lives but once. If the English major has enough energy and openness of heart, he lives not once but hundreds of times."
Read the full article from The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Ideal English Major
I was an English major. My husband was an English major. Some of my best friends were English majors. Now my 19 year old niece is in college and has chosen to be an English major. Recently, the push from society and parents encourages students to major in more "employable" fields like business, technology, and various medical studies. Yet, I've never regretted my choice to major in English, and I have a feeling, today's English majors won't either.
"What many undergraduates do not know — and what so many of their professors have been unable to tell them — is how valuable the most fundamental gift of the humanities will turn out to be. That gift is clear thinking, clear writing and a lifelong engagement with literature."
Check out the article from The New York Times: "The Decline and Fall of the English Major"
BA in English