Unfortunately, this is not an April Fool’s Day message.
I have been working hard on the Spring~Summer 2022 edition of Teach. Write.. However, the journal is a one-woman show, and this woman is a full-time composition instructor at a community college. My first obligations are to my students and the college, so although the journal is near completion, I need the weekend to concentrate on the final edit before I feel it is ready to see the light of day. Therefore, the new expected publication date is Monday, April 4. I apologize for the delay.
Episode 13 of my podel (podcasted novel) is now available. Why not take a listen to it and the other twelve as well? I hope it won’t be so long between episodes again. Episode 13: Mrs. Whittakers 7,360th Class
I stated in my last blog that I would review the book my daughter gave me for Christmas, but I’m going to put that off. Recent events at work have caused me to revisit some “teachable moments” in my past that have shaped me as an educator and a human. But come back for the review. The Dictionary of ObscureSorrows is a little book packed full of wistful wisdom.
And now, here’s a little bit more about Mrs. Winkler back when she was Ms. Whitlock.
I was born in 1960, towards the end of the Baby Boomer generation. Kinda awkward I’m finding, especially as a woman. Unlike some women born in the ’40s and ’50s, I inherited some of the privileges that had been denied them but still had, and have, a long way to go, baby.
At least I could open a bank account.
Yes, that’s right.
Writing for the financial website Spiral, LeBach Pham writes that although women had been financiers in America throughout its history, it was not until the ’60s that banks could no longer legally keep a woman from opening an account. (Pham). I was 14 when women obtained the right to open a credit card account or to take out a mortgage on their own thanks to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, although I wasn’t ready to have a credit card until I was well into my 20’s.
I suppose in my early years, I took for granted some of the privileges that many women, especially college-educated women, had fought so hard for. Part of the reason, I suppose, is because my wonderful parents were both fierce supporters of education. I remember one of my favorite family pictures before my younger brother was born is my father, smiling, seated in the middle of the picture with me, the youngest at the time, about two or three I think, on his knee, then, my gap-toothed brother and my sister, the oldest, standing on either side of him. Behind my father, arms reaching out and resting on her children’s shoulders as if to cover her whole family, is my mother, in her full regalia, having just graduated with her BA in English from Auburn University.
After graduating from Lanett High School in Lanett, AL, my mother, who wanted to see a bit more of the world than the little cotton mill town where she was widely known as the principal’s daughter, headed out to Shawnee, OK, to attend Oklahoma Baptist University. For her day, it was a bold move, I think, to attend a university over 800 miles west of her protective home.
My mother tells the story of how she arrived by train that first year and walked with her bag toward the campus to see it covered in black. As she got closer she realized what she was seeing a giant swarm of locusts. Big black and gold locusts. She said she couldn’t move without stepping on one. I couldn’t imagine anyone staying after that introduction, but mom did and went back the next year, even after falling in love with my dad, whom she had known all through school but never dated until that summer after her first year in college.
She had promised my grandparents she would go back one more year and she did. But it wasn’t until after marriage and the birth of her first three children that my mother finished her degree at Auburn University, with my dad’s full support and encouragement
I remember going far away from home, too, when I was right out of undergraduate school. I went to Oral Roberts University during the 900-foot Jesus years. You had to be there. Nevertheless, I feel I got a good education at ORU. Yes, I had to take a course called Holy Spirit in the Now, but I also took Survey of the Old Testament and Survey of the New Testament. Those two courses have served me well as a student and teacher of literature, especially at a community college in the buckle of the Bible belt.
My first teaching assignment was at a small church-affiliated school in Aliquippa, PA, outside of Pittsburg. Until I was flown up to the school for an interview, I had never been anywhere near Pittsburg, had no relatives there, and knew no one, but, just like my mother, I saw it all as a grand adventure. The school was small, and I taught three levels of English and two levels of German.
Turned out it was rather out of the mainstream theologically, but I did not become aware of this until after I took the job, even though I asked specifically about the church’s and school’s doctrine during the interviews. For example, although I had hauled all my German Christmas materials with me and moved them into my little attic apartment, I wasn’t able to use them because the church was vehemently anti-Catholic and did not believe in practicing any of the “pagan” holidays, so I just kept my copies of “Stille Nacht” in my files at home.
At the very first faculty meeting I attended, soon after I was introduced, our principal announced that he wanted all of the teachers to incorporate into our curriculum the support of prayer in public schools. He looked at me and the one other English teacher and said, “You will have your students write letters to their congressmen in support of prayer in schools. I will give you a sample letter I want them to follow”
Without hesitation, I said, “No, I won’t be able to do that.” He looked shocked. I looked around the room and the other teachers, especially the women, seemed shocked as well. I felt that I needed to explain. “I will discuss writing persuasive letters to our congressmen and create an assignment, but I want my students to write about the issues that are important to them and formulate their own letters.”
Everyone seemed still surprised.
“Of course, if they want to write and send letters to their congressmen about prayer in schools, then I will assist them in editing the letters, but I can’t require them to write those letters.”
A silence that spelled trouble for me from then on.
And yet, several of my fellow teachers, all women, came up to me after that faculty meeting and thanked me. They called me brave. It was my turn to be surprised. I didn’t feel particularly brave, just strong in my convictions that teaching writing didn’t have anything to do with religion or politics, no matter where I was teaching.
I remember speaking up again a few months later when I found out that the single male music teacher was making more money than I was. He had let it slip when he was hitting on me. I was appalled (at both) He had less education, fewer responsibilities–I had five preps in two disciplines, morning duty, lunchroom and afternoon duty as well as serving as assistant soccer coach and theater director. He had his classes, four I think, including band and choir practice.
I marched down to the principal’s office and just asked him–Why is so-and-so making more money than me? The answer–“Some day he will have a family to provide for.”
My turn to be shocked.
I may have been able to open a bank account when I taught in PA at that small private school, but I certainly didn’t make much money to put into one.
I did go back another year, believe it or not, partly because I had been promised a raise (although it never materialized), and partly because I had a long talk with my very wise daddy who had seen growth in me that first year and just felt I should go back. He wasn’t sure why. Always trust the instincts of someone who loves you, I thought then and still do. But the biggest reason I went back was pure orneriness, I reckon. Yeah, I thought, you fellers are going to have to deal with an uppity southern woman one more year.
At the end of that year, after I faced the fact that I couldn’t afford to live on the salary I was making, I began to enjoy the fruits of my labors. I started dating, Mr. Winkler–the best man that I know and as wise as my sweet daddy.
I came back South to get my second degree at Auburn University. Mr. Winkler, followed me down South a year later, and after I finished my degree and started working for Floyd County Schools in Rome, GA, I became Mrs. Winkler and have never regretted it one bit almost thirty-three years later.
However, while I was still Ms. Whitlock, teaching English and German at two high schools in the county, I still felt that “in-between” feeling, although I did enjoy some privileges denied me at the private school –being paid on a state teaching salary schedule at least. This meant I was supposed to be paid as much as a man, but I noticed that most of the male teachers also had paid coaching positions at the school, while I was assigned assistant soccer coach as one of my regular duties–no extra paycheck came with that.
But, I was making a decent salary at least, enough to even open a credit card account and take out my first loan to buy a new car. This time the inequities were more subtle, but very much there. For example, at one of the high schools where I taught, I had the star football player in my class–he was the kicker for the team. Now, I am no football expert, but my father had played football for Auburn and been a football coach so I knew enough to know, after watching a couple of games, that this kid was, well, not very good.
However, he and the administration felt differently about his abilities I guess.
One day in class, the students were working on an assignment, and I looked up to see that our star football player was putting a small paper cup under his desk. I walked toward him, and the cup fell over, spilling out a disgusting black liquid. Tobacco usage of any kind, including chew, even in that rural part of a Georgia county, was strictly forbidden; the faculty had been strongly reminded of that in a recent memo from the principal. So, I called the kid on it. He claimed it wasn’t his cup. “I saw you put the cup under your desk,” I said and wrote him up for detention.
Later that day, I was summoned to the principal’s office. The principal had barely spoken to me before that day. “You’re new here,” he said, “so you may not know that so-and-so is our starting kicker and an important member of the team.”
“Oh, I’m aware that he’s on the team, but I saw him put a cup full of tobacco spit under the desk. It fell over, and he refused to clean it up, so I wrote him up for a detention.”
“Did you actually see so-and-so spit in the cup?”
“No, I suppose I didn’t.”
“He says he didn’t spit in that cup. That he was covering for his buddy.” I tried to continue my argument but was cut short. The principal said, “I’m going to rescind this detention because you didn’t actually see so-and-so spit in the cup, and if he gets one more detention, he will have to sit out a game, and he’s too important to the team.”
I knew it would be better for me to say nothing, and I knew it probably would do no good at all to say anything, but just like in PA, I couldn’t help it, I spoke out. “Okay, I suppose you are going to do this no matter what I think, but I will tell you that word is going to get around quickly that I have no authority in my own classroom, and I am going to have more and more trouble.”
That my prediction came true has never given me any comfort.
And yet, over thirty years later, I am still speaking out about the dangers of administrators ignoring the ramifications of taking authority away from the teacher in the classroom. I’m still predicting how that loss of authority is chipping away at the academic integrity of our schools, colleges, and universities.
But who am I? A little, mouthy Southern woman–just another boomer on the verge of retirement.
It is snowing here in Western North Carolina. Our first big snow in a while and so beautiful. My husband and I have made preparations: I went to get what groceries I needed and tried not to go crazy (come on guys, even if we get snowed in, it’s not like we are going to starve in the day, maybe two, it will take to dig out). We ran the dishwasher and washed a couple of loads of laundry just in case our power goes out, which is possible with the high winds that are predicted for later in the day. John didn’t forget the birds either. He wiped off the five inches of snow on the tops and refilled them this morning, so now I’m watching the cardinals, titmice, chickadees, woodpeckers, wrens, juncos, and rufous-sided towhees as they take turns at the well-stocked feeders.
All is at peace.
So what’s the anger all about, Mrs. Winkler, you may ask.
It’s the title of a book many of you no doubt have already read but is totally new to me–Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Master and Buddhist monk. The book is a Christmas gift from a dear friend, inspired by a long debate we had a couple of months ago about the “value” of anger. He didn’t see any positive effects of the emotion, and I recognized its destructive nature but argued that feelings of anger, correctly channeled, can have powerfully positive effects.
After reading the book, I am convinced that our friendly argument (I know–an oxymoron, especially these days) was more a semantic one than anything else. Anger, written from a Buddhist perspective but aligning with my own Christian worldview, seems to address both our points of view.
The first thing I noticed and had to get used to was the simple and repetitive nature of the writing. Having just read Rudolf Flesch’s The Art of Plain Talk (see my review in my last post), I appreciated the simple nature of the language, but the repetition distracted me at first, until I moved into the rhythm of the work and realized its purpose as a meditation on anger.
Throughout my first reading of the work, I noticed that Thich Nhat Hanh tends to emphasize the following:
Acknowledging the anger you or someone else feels
Recognizing that it springs from suffering
Taking “good care” of your own anger as much as you can
Asking for help
Throughout the book, the author repeats these basic ideas, explaining it in different words and contexts while offering many real-world examples. This will be a book that I’ll read again. I’m sure I will glean even more wisdom from it next time around.
One of my favorite parts is “Chapter Two: Putting out the Fires of Anger,” where Thich Nhat Hanh discusses how dealing with your own suffering and anger can help other people dispel any anger they have with you: “A transformation will take place in the other person…just by your behavior” (42).
Another chapter that speaks to me is “Chapter Seven: No Enemies.” In this part, the author speaks about the effect of alleviating anger on a community, even a nation. One section of the chapter is entitled “Compassion is Intelligent.” He writes: “If you think compassion is passive, weak, or cowardly, then you don’t know what compassion is. If you think that compassionate people do not resist and challenge injustice, you are wrong. They are warriors” (130).
I love this. Reading it and meditating on it has been invaluable to me because I have always seen my so-called “righteous anger” as the thing that makes me a courageous fighter. Now I see things differently. Perhaps my anger towards injustice lights a flame, but the results will only be positive if, if I dissect that anger and channel it, developing compassion for those with whom I am angry by trying to understand their suffering as well as my own.
Much of what Thich Nhat Hanh says resonates with my own Christian beliefs:
Matthew (7:12): “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you. . . .”
Mark (12:31): “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Ephesians (4:26): “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger…”
You see, my friend and I are not so far apart after all. None of us are. So my wish for all of us in 2022 is that we would find that peace that passes all understanding in our hears and our minds (Phillipians 4:7).
Stay tuned for next blog post when I review the unusual but wonderful little book that my daughter gave me for Christmas, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrowsby John Koenig.
Just a few updates:
I am now accepting submissions for the Spring~Summer 2022 edition of Teach.Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal. For complete information se my submission guidelines.
Also, drumroll please, I will be resurrecting my podel (podcasted novel) called CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical sometime this month!!! It has been a long time, but last semester was just too intense (sooooooo much grading). I had little time for any of my passion projects, but I’m itching to get back in the saddle with some new material. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then I hope you will listen to the first 12 episodes. You can find the podel on most podcast platforms, but here’s a link, too: CAMPUS.
At work, in our faculty work room, is a white board, left over from the days when the long, thin room was an awkward and undesirable classroom. After much complaining, the room was repurposed for its current, much more appropriate purpose.
I think it was my late friend and colleague who first started writing fun questions on the board for her fellow teachers to answer. She was like that–trying to find ways to bring us together, reveling in her new found profession, interacting with faculty in the room where she had been a student, my student, and then become an adjunct, using the room as an office and meeting room amidst the sound of copier, shredder, refrigerator, and ice maker.
But she loved it because she had become a teacher, something she never knew she wanted to be and found out she was born for. When she received her master’s, now qualified to teach more than developmental classes, my friend left the faculty workroom for her own office at the college, now a full-time instructor who became the faculty advisor for the writing club and school newspaper, one of the most innovative instructors I’ve ever known.
My friend left us much too soon, succumbing to the effects of an aneurism she experienced at the college right before her class was about to start. But her friends continued to write questions on the board, the faculty, most who never knew her, continue to post their answers, sometimes half-heartedly, though, as more responsibilities are piled on us, as we are forced to learn more systems that are supposed to help make our work, or someone’s, easier, and as morale sinks lower and lower.
When I returned to work after the holidays, someone had written a new question on the board: What is your New Year’s resolution? Trite perhaps, but I was the first one to answer it–Read more good books.
So, my dear student, colleague, friend whom I miss so much, I will try to stay true to my resolution for your sake, knowing that your spirit remains in the faculty workroom and meanders down the halls and into the classrooms.
Here are descriptions of two books I have read so far in 2022 (pictured above):
Leavings by Wendell Berry–This collection of poems is amazing. Published in 2010, the book speaks of Berry’s personal and our global place, of what its like to grow old and feel hopeless, yet strangely grateful, of continuing to fight the good fight–rescuing our planet from the greed that threatens to destroy it. Listen to his words from Sabbath Poems: 2007, VI:
“Those who use the world assuming/their knowledge is sufficient/destroy the world. The forest/is mangled for the sale/of a few sticks, or is bulldozed/into a stream and covered over/with the earth it once stood upon” (90).
“It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,/for hope must not depend on feeling good/and there is the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight./…The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?/…Because we have not made our lives to fit/our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded,/the streams polluted, the mountains overturned. Hope/then to belong to your place by your own knowledge/of what it is that no other place is,/ and by your caring for it as you care for no other place, this/place that you belong to though it is not yours, for it was from the beginning and will be to the end”(91).
Leavings left me with hope–nevertheless. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because my place is good and true and holds me close, safe from a world that does not value it, or me.
The Art of Plain Talk by Rudolf Flesch–The 1946 classic instructs how to create clear, concise prose. I came to the deserted campus during the break to pack up some of the many books in my office as we prepare to move to our shiny new building and I begin my divestiture as I prepare for my retirement. I found Flesch’s book and realized that although I may have read it years ago, I couldn’t recall anything about it. So I brought it home to read before I give it away.
Although the book is a bit dated, the points Flesch makes about the importance of clarity and conciseness are well-taken One of the biggest issues I see in student writing is wordiness and the author offers many examples of ways to cut down on the verbiage.
Here is one statement that reflects the essence of the book: “Plain and simple speech appeals to everyone because it indicates clear thought and honest motives. Here is the point: Anyone who is thinking clearly and honestly can express his thoughts in words which are understandable, and in very few of them. Let’s write for the reader and not for ourselves. Make the writing do what it is intended to” (130).
Good advice to share with my students.
Next post, I will write about the books I’m reading now:
Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh, given to me by a dear friend following a long conversation about this troubling emotion. Hanh, a Buddhist monk, gives practical advice on dealing with anger–not denying it, but embracing it and changing its destructive energy so that it can do good in the world.
The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig, a special Christmas gift from my dear daughter. It is an unusual book, a collection of invented words and definitions to describe feelings for which English has no words–some short, some essay length. Very cool. My daughter knows me well.
Fight Songs: A Story of Love and Sports in a Complicated South by Ed Southern–Ed is the executive director of the North Carolina Writers’ Network, a terrific writer, and my friend. I am enjoying his interesting work, written during the pandemic.
On November 28, I completed National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) by writing 50, 453 words. I exceeded my goal with two days to spare!! Now, I didn’t write a novel, and it isn’t a complete rough draft, but it is quite a leap forward on my newest major writing project–a book about some of my travels and how they have affected my teaching.
So, I’m not nearly finished, but I must say that I’m allowed to take some pride in this accomplishment I think because I have also been grading like no tomorrow, and organizing, and traveling to see family, and attending the North Carolina Writers’ Network conference in Raleigh, and enjoying Thanksgiving with family and friends.
Today’s tally is 1,782 words for a total of 5,591. Not bad for three days of writing after a full day of crafting responses to students, grading British literature exams, and putting out various fires. Doesn’t make for much time to blog.
However, I can’t let the day go by without saying this: Academic freedom for faculty is not an option for any institution of higher learning. It is an absolute necessity. As the people hired due to our expertise in different subjects, we have an obligation to prepare our students for the rigors of the academic world if they are transfer students and the industry standards for our students that will go immediately into the workforce.
Furthermore, we should maintain that standard for ALL students regardless of their program of study, age, background, or obstacles. One standard for all student groups–regardless of their situation. We must also help ALL students reach that standard without regard to those factors; nevertheless, the standard must remain. It is in the classroom where that standard is supported, so it should be the ones who manage those learning environments, be they virtual or seated, who should decide, within the bounds of the course description established by the state, of course, how that standard is maintained.
Our accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) seems to agree. In Section Six of the Principles of Accreditation, it states:
Qualified, effective faculty members are essential to carrying out the mission of the institution and ensuring the quality and integrity of its academic programs…. Because student learning is central to the institution’s mission and educational degrees, the faculty is responsible for directing the learning enterprise, including overseeing and coordinating educational programs to ensure that each contains essential curricular components, has appropriate content and pedagogy, and maintains discipline currency.
Achievement of the institution’s mission with respect to teaching, research, and service requires a critical mass of qualified full-time faculty to provide direction and oversight of the academic programs. Due to this significant role, it is imperative that an effective system of evaluation be in place for all faculty members that addresses the institution’s obligations to foster intellectual freedom of faculty to teach, serve, research, and publish (p.17).
Shared governance and academic freedom for faculty are not rights or privileges–they are basic principles essential to the health of any institution of higher learning.
Okay, enough writing for today, Mrs. Winkler.
You got some teaching to do tomorrow. You need your sleep!
NANOWRIMO stands for National Novel Writing Month and November is it!! I have participated in NANOWRIMO for the past few years. Last year I produced the first rough draft of CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical that I am now producing as a podcast. No, I haven’t forgotten. I hope to do another episode in the next few days. Before that I wrote 50,000 words on my still unfinished novel FLOOD, which I WILL finish one of these days. Think retirement, Katie.
This year, however, I’m not writing a novel. I’m working on a non-fiction book (it’s allowed) about how my travels have impacted my teaching. My mother said this summer, as I was telling her about some of my ideas for my classes this fall, that I should write a book about teaching. I was touched and flattered, I mean I don’t think she was being sarcastic, and I decided to do it. No time like National Novel (Book) Writing Month.
At first the book was going to be more about some of my thoughts on education and explanation of my teaching methods, but when I attended the North Carolina Writers’ Network Squire Summer Workshops this summer and received some positive comments about the travel essay I submitted for critique, I settled on my current focus.
I am excited to have an excuse to write everyday for the next 30 days. I hope you will follow me on this latest adventure as Mrs. Winkler writes a book!
Haunted Hendo: An Anthology of Short Films Featuring Mountain Mysteries and Local Lore premiered last night on YouTube. Some of the 50, yes 50, cast and crew gathered at the college for a pot luck supper. We enjoyed watching the films and seeing all our hard work come together. We kept saying over and over again, “I can’t believe we pulled it off.”
It’s been a wild ride.
At the end of the spring semester last year, Jennifer Treadway, the head of the theater department, and I conceived of a series of short films focusing on local ghost stories and legends. In the summer, the director called together a core group of faculty, students, alumni, community members, and actor/producer/writer Z. Joseph Guice, our artist-in-residence, to write the scripts for the films to be included in the series. By the end of the summer, the scripts were written.
Early in the semester, Jennifer held group auditions for all films, casting students and community members, as well as assigning people to various filmmaking roles, including directors, assistant directors, cinematographers, editors, and general crew. With limited resources, including film equipment, the schedule for filming was carefully planned and all took on multiple roles. The schedule was tight and sometimes we didn’t think we would make it, but we did.
Although sometimes frustrating and difficult, what a wonderful learning opportunity for all of us, especially the students in the Acting for Film class and those in the Film and Video Production program. The end result is eight short films connected by some ghostly introductions.
Below is a link to the BRCC Theatre YouTube Page. There, you will find the playlist for Haunted Hendo. I wrote the screenplays for Boojum: The Musical and The Tourist. I directed the film my daughter wrote and edited called The Siren of the French Broad.