Student Teacher–Teacher Student

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If I can put aside my oh-so-fragile ego, I can learn a great deal from my students. I am trying to listen more to what they say. One way I am learning from my students is by requiring my first semester freshman English composition students to write a short researched persuasive essay on a topic that is relevant to our college specifically or to one of the communities it serves.

Students can choose from a list of research questions I brainstormed, or they can submit their own questions for approval. Most of the time, the students pick one of my groups of questions. One set that became much more popular during the pandemic has been about online learning:

  • What is our college doing to help retain online students? Is it enough? Why? or Why not? What are some things that other schools are doing that our college might do to help retain online students? Is our college doing any of these things? 
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This short summer semester, without any prompting from me, two of my best students chose the same group of questions. After research, including separate personal interviews with the college’s Director of Teaching and Learning, my students argued two different, but similar, theses. Happily, both recognized the students’ role in their own success and offered suggestions for what students could do to help themselves complete online courses with the desired results.

However, one student emphasized the faculty’s role in improving online retention, and the other argued that the administration could take steps to help more students achieve success. I found both viewpoints interesting and insightful.

So, what did I learn?

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The two big takeaways–Faculty should interact more with students, and administrators need to lighten instructors loads so that students can do so. Wow! I mean, my students didn’t teach me anything I didn’t know already. I’ve been saying it for years; however, what is new is hearing about the importance of interaction and building a personal relationship from online students themselves, one who has had six semesters of online classes at my institution.

Both students indicated how helpful it is when instructors quickly respond to inquires and return graded material as soon as possible. This is the first time, however, that I have had a student discuss the administration’s responsibility to be sure that faculty do not have an overload.

Their arguments are well-taken.

A case in point was my schedule this summer. I had three classes and a shortened semester of ten weeks instead of sixteen. Since I have been teaching sixteen-week English composition in eight weeks the past couple of years, ten weeks seemed like a summer vacation. With the lighter load, I was not only able to communicate more often and with more detail but also had time to develop my courses and further refine them for our mutual benefit. In addition, I was able to hold more live virtual sessions and record them for the sake of students who could not attend the sessions. Students mentioned how helpful these sessions were.

Both students mentioned the need for proper advisement when students are registering for online classes. Sometimes, they said, students are ill-prepared for the rigor of online classes and may not possess the time-management skills to be successful. I have found that some of my eight-week online students are not even aware that they are taking an accelerated English course and quickly drop out.

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One student mentioned in their essay the problem of recruitment taking precedence over retention. This point resonated with me. For example, on more than a few occassions, I have had developmental and other ill-prepared or otherwise weak students placed in my eight-week courses, or even worse, with advising restrictions removed since the pandemic, students are signing themselves up for classes, which can easily lead to misplacement. Most of these students withdraw; the expectations and pace are simply too much.

The hope is that administration will return to advising restrictions, but the lure of classes filled beyond capacity, and the funds that generates, so far seems to be too strong. As long as enrollment numbers are considered above all other considerations, including limiting the number of students in online classes, hiring more instructors, and better preparing them, I, and two of my most talented students, recognize that we will most likely continue to have low retention and success rates in online classes despite the efforts of even the most dedicated and talented faculty.

A Special Day

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One of the great joys for any teacher is celebrating the successes of her students. On Saturday, July 9, at Hendersonville Theatre in Hendersonville, NC, I was so happy to attend a reading of my former student’s short play that she wrote while in my creative writing class last spring. It was her last semester, and although she is not planning to study English as she continues her academic career, she told her advisor, my colleague and friend, that she always wanted to be a writer, so my colleague suggested Creative Writing I, a course that I was teaching for the first time as an eight-week course–completely online.

It wasn’t an easy course to teach or to take–fitting in sixteen weeks of material in half the time was going to be a challenge, but my student consistently turned in quality, polished work in all of the genres we studied. About the time we got to the drama unit, I found out that the local community theater was conducting a play reading series to help local playwrights workshop their plays. Then, my student submitted the ten-minute play, “Book Club,” to fulfill the playwriting assignment.

My student and I after the reading of her play “Book Club” at Hendersonville Theatre

The play was good, very good–it had solid structure, strong characters with distinct voices, humor, and most importantly, something to say about the foibles of our society. Almost on a whim, I suggested that Amber submit the play for the reading series and gave her the information, not really thinking that she would have the time with her busy schedule to submit the play, but a few weeks later, she e-mailed me that her play had been accepted.

So, there I was on that Saturday, in the audience, listening to six fine local actors read my student’s little play and then hearing the audience members–actors, directors, family members, and patrons of the theater offer words of encouragement to the young writer and give suggestions for taking the play further, maybe expanding it. Afterwards, I was able to meet her parents and grandmother who were there in support of her achievement

To make the day even better, my good friend and fellow playwright Pat’s play, “Amanda” was also read. It, too, was a fine play and also featured great actors–A short play about a woman’s whose house cat suddenly and inexplicably miraculously changes form to the great delight and laughter of the audience. Like all good comedies, however, it had its poignant and touching moments as well.

The Brandy Bar in Hendersonville, NC

On Wednesday of the next week, Pat and I talked about writing ten-minute plays at the fantastic little watering hole called the Brandy Bar in Hendersonville on historic 7th Avenue for the “In the Company of Writers” series sponsored by the North Carolina Writers’ Network–Henderson County. After sipping on brandy cocktails and listening to some cool, jazzy blues, we read our own little play about writing plays before talking about plays, among other literary things, especially the non-pecuniary value of our art.

It was a great evening in the mid-week after classes to follow a wonderful afternoon on the weekend, spending quality time with writers and immersing myself in one of my great loves–the theater.

Teach. Write. –It’s a good life!

Mrs. Winkler Keeps Reading, and Thinking

I haven’t been writing like I should this summer since I’ve been working. It’s hard to read and analyze student writing all day and then come home and write. However, I do still find the time to read and have enjoyed an eclectic bunch of books.

Photo by Katie Winkler

I read Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren back in early spring–a high-stress time for me like so many educators, so this was a good find, loaned to me by the faculty advisor of our college’s Christian student group. It proved to be a good choice.

Being reminded of the value of appreciating the everyday events in my life and how these moments can become times of meditation and preparation for an increasingly tense working environment was the literary comfort food I needed, like the PB&J sandwich on the cover.

Warren takes us through a typical day with eleven chapters like “Waking,” “Losing Keys,” “Sitting in Traffic,” and “Sleeping.” Each one includes ways to not only appreciate the ordinary but also to find the spiritual force within it.

I especially liked Chapter 7: Checking Email because it discusses the value in our everyday work lives. One of the frustrations after almost 30 years of teaching is the sameness of my work. I still find joy in teaching, but I must admit to growing weary of answering so many of the same questions, marking the same errors over and over again.

Gratefully, my students do improve, but too soon they move on, and a whole new batch come in who need the same instruction. I’m not blaming them or anybody–nature of the beast. I’m just getting kinda sick of it, you know? I know, I know, I need to retire, and I’m going to–soon, but I don’t want to simply survive this upcoming year; I want to be a good, compassionate, not-burned-out composition teacher.

Having read this book will help me.

I also liked the chapter called Making the Bed. I hate to admit it, but for a long time, even though my mama taught me better, I wasn’t making up the bed. Then, I read this book about forming good habits (I blogged about it), and I started making my bed each morning. In the years since then, I’ve rarely missed a day, and it has indeed helped me to appreciate the value of routine–and the joy of it, even. Making the bed, preparing my desk for work, cooking, so many things I am finding pleasure in again.

Being 62 may have something to do with it.

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For example, the opening chapter of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca begins with the unnamed protagonist describing her quiet life now that all the drama is over, and she is far away from Manderly, the sprawling estate that she and her husband Max had loved so dearly:

“In reality I lay many hundred miles away in an alien land, and would wake, before many seconds had passed, in the bare little hotel bedroom, comforting in its very lack of atmosphere. I would sigh a moment, stretch myself and turn, and opening my eyes, be bewildered at that glittering sun, that hard, clean sky, so different from the soft moonlight of my dream. The day would lie before us both, long no doubt, and uneventful, but fraught with a certain stillness, a dear tranquillity we had not known before.”

I remember thinking when I was a girl and reading Rebecca for the first time how utterly boring it must have been and had no idea how an uneventful day “fraught with a certain stillness” could possibly be either dear or tranquil.

Now, I understand, and reading Warren’s book just solidified that understanding. She writes: “Without realizing it, I had slowly built a habit: a steady resistance to and dread of boredom.”

That’s it. That’s what I had been doing.

Photo by Jennifer Treadway

Now, I can’t say that I welcome boredom, but I am learning how to make peace with it and use it more as “me” time. Sometimes, I, a person who in the past always had to be doing something and “feeling productive,” just sit on the front deck with a cold beverage and (gasp) think!

It’s becoming my liturgy, but you know, it’s not really ordinary at all.

Finding a Way

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I’m behind keeping up with my summer loves, especially reading and writing, because I’m working this summer. It’s not too bad a gig–Monday through Thursday schedule, three classes instead of five or six, ten weeks instead of sixteen with a two-week vacation at the end. I can handle it this summer and the next because I have something to look forward to–permanent summer break.

Yes, retirement begins on August 1, 2023. I’m a little excited. Can you tell?

In the meantime, I make the best of things in my temporary office in the library at our college as we await the final touches being put on the new multi-million dollar building that replaces two of the oldest buildings on campus. One of those buildings was my work home for 26 years, so as the building is being torn down, I admit I have become nostalgic. Who wouldn’t?

photo by Katie Winkler

However, I am not too sorry to see it go. It served us all well over the years, but it was built during a different time and doesn’t meet the needs of a 21st-century student body or its faculty. My students being able to access the WI-FI from my office will be a nice change. I hear the adjustable stand-up desks are really rad as well. Do people still say “rad”?

So, I watch the goings-on across the lake, answer numerous messages and emails, occasionally chat with colleagues, teach one small seated class, and grade, grade, grade the assignments and essays of my mere 43 composition and developmental students. During regular semesters, English faculty usually teach six classes and have 100 or more students. To earn an overload, an instructor must have over 110 students or more than six courses, so this “leisurely” pace helps a little.

Despite the tedious nature of grading essays, I know from long experience that working directly with student writing through grading and conferencing and therefore establishing a relationship with students as individuals is the most important work I do as a composition teacher. I do not think there is any substitute for it.

Hence the dilemma.

The demand for English instructors to deliver online instruction is higher than ever, but course loads that already did not consider how much time an English professor needs to deliver meaningful writing instruction online have not been altered to reflect the nature of effective andragogy in the English classroom and how it has been affected by the increasing number of online students.

In addition, the number of students desiring accelerated online English instruction has increased. If you take the already heavy grading load of a 16-week semester and cut it in half, something’s got to give. Often times that is the student, who may or may not have been advised that the course must cover 16 weeks of material in 8 weeks’ time.

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Currently, I am the only instructor at my institution who is crazy enough to attempt teaching eight-week online freshman composition classes. I must say, now that I have taught them for several semesters, the accelerated classes work extremely well for a certain type of student, especially those who are working towards degrees to gain a promotion at work. Highly motivated students like those in our pre-nursing, emergency medical services, and law-enforcement programs also tend to do well.

Students who are not good candidates for online learning, are not prepared for the workload, are not willing to make changes to their schedules to make room for the extra time they will need to spend, or those who do not manage their time well, along with those who are weak students or writers in general, simply should not take the accelerated course.

But they do.

So what is an English teacher who cares about learning for ALL students, whether they should be there or not, supposed to do? Furthermore, what does an instructor do if she wants to infuse her own personality into her course and resists the impersonal “canned” classes that so often do not fit her institution’s student body and do not help build the vital personal relationships that are required for good teaching of any kind?

Find a way.

With all that extra time (guffaw) I have this summer, I am continuing to make changes in hopes that the Mad English Person who, after my retirement, steps into the perilous land of acceleration will have an easier time of it. Here are a few things I have done and am doing to help that poor soul:

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  • Adding lessons–In my learning management system (LMS), I can create multi-media lessons that help guide the students through the essential material. My own simple questions can be embedded throughout each lesson that is automatically graded by the computer, allowing an easy low-stakes grade for the student and zero work for me. Of course, I must take considerable time to build the lessons, but remember, I have all that extra time this summer.
  • Early in the course, assigning paragraphs instead of full-length essays–Having students write paragraphs of seven to ten sentences instead of full essays has been a game-changer. I can still teach multiple rhetorical modes as required by the state, including illustration, process analysis, classification, and definition, but now I have more time to focus on the basic elements of any good writing–thesis, support, conclusion, organization, transitions, sentence structure, diction, grammar, and mechanics. In addition, I can grade closely without overwhelming the students. My constructive criticism seems easier for them to digest. Best of all–it’s doable for even the weakest of my students.
  • Fewer and shorter essays–Beyond a doubt, less is more. In an accelerated class, I must limit what students write for both our sakes, but I have found that the writing is stronger because I have more preliminary work leading up to the final draft that is low stakes for them and little work for me. Win. Win.
  • Require rough drafts but give little direct feedback. If one of the learning objectives is for students to revise and edit more effectively, why in the world am I going to revise and edit for them? How does that help anybody learn? I am handicapping students if I give too much feedback on a rough draft. I require them because they help students with time management, and I have an earlier draft to judge students’ revising and editing skills. Because I give mainly completion grades for drafts (and make sure students are aware of this), there is little work for me.
  • Line editing less–In the “old” days, I felt like I owed it to students to mark every single error I could find. No more. I save time, energy, and my sanity, by line editing the first paragraph of an essay, and then marking and making comments occasionally after that. I used to spend 45 minutes to an hour grading one researched essay, but now I can effectively grade one in half that time.
  • Make use of the LMS advanced grading system–I am not a fan of Turnitin (subject for another day), and I’m too close to retirement to want to pursue a change in our relationship, but I do make use of the LMS’s built-in advanced grading system. I can easily build new rubrics and checklists. I also have access to a “quicklist” when I am marking an essay. I choose from a long, long drop-down menu of common comments. Over the years, I have added links to webpages that give students more information or offer exercises to help them with various writing issues. It has really helped me save time.
  • Adding more required online sessions and conferences–I am able to record the sessions, so even though few students can attend live, one or two usually do, and the other students are required to view the sessions. Logs on the computer allow me to verify if the student downloaded and viewed the recording. The conferences are even better because I can speak in person to each student, which helps to form those all-important relationships between us through discussing the student’s writing and listening to their concerns.
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I may be old and worn out, and some people can’t seem to wait to put me out to pasture, but I’ve been at this work a long time, and I am not afraid to say it–I’m damn good at it. I know what works, and letting some AI, no matter how sophisticated, do the instruction, may lead to better data in the short term, but it won’t lead to better writing–only holding students to a standard, then compassionately working directly with them and their writing can achieve that.

Way Too Long

The last time I wrote a blog post was back on April 9, so it is high time I write another. I suppose.

I’m not sure what writing this blog means to me anymore. No one is forcing me to do it. I rather think there may be some who would be perfectly happy if I never wrote another word. Ah, who am I kidding? Mrs. Winkler, do not think of yourself more highly than you ought. I mean, what are you doing? You muse and mutter about this life work you do that may be important to you and possibly to some of your students but the essence of which seems to be of little importance to the “people who count,” those who seem to measure success through the uptick of certain numbers and the downward trend of others.

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But enough of this muttering, I say to myself. Buck up, Buttercup! You aren’t long for the world of decreasing academic freedom and shrinking shared governance. You, my dear Mrs. Winkler, are bound for retirement!! Ah, yes, many blissful days with absolutely no grading of freshmen essays laden with 1st and 2nd person pronouns, unnecessary repetition, and comma splices. You will only write and read what you wish as you sit on the front deck with your feet propped up, a cup of steaming coffee or glass of iced tea in your hand. Your daughter will give you more and more gift books like The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows to fill the lazy days. And you will like it very much.

How’s that for a segue into my next book review?

Yes, for Christmas, my daughter gave me this unusual, incredible book called The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig. She had a hard time finding a copy when she went Christmas shopping because she considers the book more like poetry or creative non-fiction than anything else. She found it finally in the reference section of the bookstore. Someone with a literal mind shelved it there, I suppose.

The book is as hard to describe as it was for her to find. It is indeed a dictionary because it has a series of words along with their parts of speech, definitions, and etymologies, but that is about all this book has in common with a dictionary. The invented or reinterpreted words are not in alphabetical order, but they are separated into categories that are equally as obscure as the words, such as “Between Living and Dreaming” (1) and “Montage of Attractions” (81)

Each entry defines a word that describes an emotion, feeling, or action that eludes denotation, but somehow, the author, through his poetic prose, puts words to what seems undefinable. Following each definition is the word’s etymology, so clever and accurate that it leaves readers nodding their heads and saying, “Yeah, that’s right. I know that feeling.”

Some of the definitions are short but others, my favorites, are essay length, often accompanied by a photograph or some other illustration. One of my favorite examples is the definition of Lumus, which comes from the Latin lumen, meaning light or brightness and humus–dark, rich soil. The brief definition of the word is “the poignant humanness beneath the spectacle of society” (127).

Pretty obscure, right? Until Koenig writes about what it means–to get away from society’s expectations and rediscover our humanity only to be swept back up into the rat race again. Then, his meaning becomes clear: “We know it’s all so silly and meaningless, and yet we’re still here, holding our breath together, waiting to see what happens next. And tomorrow, we’ll put ourselves out there and do it all again. The show must go on” (129)

Yeah, I say. That’s right. I know that feeling.

I know it right now. And am inspired to write my own word to name this current malaise.

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The word is Meloncholied, which comes from the German Melancholie (melancholy)+Lied (song)

And so goes the old teacher’s song:

I’m not sure I even know what it is I do anymore. It seems like more and more, pardon the sports metaphor, I’m playing some evasive game with definite, elusive rules that are only made clear once they are broken and penalties are imposed. How do I score if I don’t know where the goal line, post, net, or basket is?

And the chorus:

You are simply more trouble than you are worth, Mrs. Winkler. We won’t even bother trying to rein you in since your pasture has been seeded and will soon sprout its winter grass. But these young content experts, whose subject knowledge exceeds that of anyone else at our college, whose enthusiasm for teaching has not been beaten down by political pandering and bureaucratic busyness, let’s pour all our condescension and patronizing onto them while we passively aggressively work on the lowering of the industry standards we claim to uphold.

And yet!

Oh, the blessed “and yet” — the turn of my sonnet–the sestet to the glum octave.

And yet, there is hope. Our educational felix culpa. It is coming. It is. I don’t know if I will live to see it, but the fire is coming that will burn down all of these false constructs that have plagued the educational institutions of our country for so long. After the destruction, we can build anew and again lay a foundation of learning for learning’s sake.

That is my hope anyway.

Therefore, despite feeling lost at times in this specious world, where upholding academic standards for the eventual betterment of students’ lives and society at large is no longer the apparent goal of our colleges and universities, I am nevertheless optimistic about the future of higher education in America. A dread, mixed with excitement is growing in me as I sense that we are on the cusp of major change–painful, soul-wrenching, horrible, miraculous, life-giving change.

For that, I wait.

And tomorrow I teach.

Meloncholied.

Work Cited:

Koenig, John. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Simon & Schuster, 2021.

Snow, Anger, and Peace

Snow in western North Carolina
photo by Katie Winkler

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 Sorrows by 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.

My podcasting studio–photo by Katie Winkler

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.

I DID IT!

My Official NANOWRIMO Certificate

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.

50, 453 words.

Not bad, Mrs. Winkler.

Not bad at all.

NANOWRIMO–DAY THREE

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.

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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!

Newest Edition of “Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal” is Now Available

Once again I pushed things to the limit, but I am publishing the Fall~Winter 2021 edition of Teach. Write. on October 1, as promised. Wonderful work by frequent contributors and new writers as well. I am constantly amazed and humbled at the quality of the work that is sent my way and honored to publish the work of these fine writers, most of them teachers.

I started Teach. Write. because I know how much teaching composition has helped me improve as a writer and how writing for publication has helped me become a better teacher. I am so glad to offer opportunities for writing teachers, and students too, to see their work in print. So satisfying.

Click below to see the edition!

FALL~WINTER 2021

I will be talking about Teach. Write., my blog, podcast, and more during my workshop for the North Carolina Writers’ Network. It is an online workshop taking place Tuesday, October 19. Click here to see more information: The Big Share.

Another writing opportunity I have enjoyed is writing two screenplays for the anthology of short films being produced at my college–one comedy and one musical. The premiere of Haunted Hendo will be October 28 and afterwards the films will be streaming online. Don’t worry. I will be sure you all get the link!

IMPOSSIBLE DREAM?

My vision.

I have a vision that every community college board of trustees member and administrator, from the president on down, would take a freshman composition class from a master teacher who has been at the same college for ten years or more. The board member or administrator could choose a seated or online class, but they should take it in its entirety, complete the work by the due dates, and submit their work for evaluation. Of course, the faculty member should be informed and agree to the process. There should be agreement that there will be no retaliation if the administrator does not receive an A. (That last line was a joke–I think so, anyway.)

To get the full experience, each individual should agree to be evaluated by the instructor and receive non-degree seeking credit, but auditing would at least help administrators see what the course is like and what the demands are on the English instructors as well as the students. Imagine if every board member and administrator had on their official transcripts an A or B in an English class at the college where they serve!

I have a vision.

If those in power see what truly happens in a college English composition classroom conducted by a veteran instructor, perhaps they would become partners with the English faculty, smoothing out so many of the adversarial relationships that have developed during these difficult times that have divided us so much along socio-political lines. For this to work, however, the instructors must be allowed the academic freedom to conduct the courses as they see fit within the parameters of each college’s academic freedom policy and the guidelines of national organizations such as the American Association of University Professors. In return, the instructors must treat all members of the class honestly and with the respect that all students are due.

If we, all of us, believe what we say, that we are tired of the division and that we want what is best for the students, all students, not just those who believe the way we do, then don’t we need to start understanding what it is that students and the faculty who teach them are actually doing in their classes? Relying on hearsay, no matter where it comes from, is not the best way to gain that knowledge, is it?

I have a vision.

Imagine what could happen if board members and administrators were able to express their own opinions about topics important to their own lives and their important work at the colleges through their writing assignments. I have been teaching at my college for over 26 years, if you count my adjunct years. In that time, I have rarely been given an opportunity to share my work with board members or administrators or to find out what they do, what it is important to them, how they feel about education, or how we could work together to better serve our students, school and its employees, local businesses, the community at large, as well as the colleges and universities our transfer students will go to. I want to know what the board and the administrators think, so I can support them in their important work. I admit, I haven’t always wanted this, but I have repented my past attitudes, and now I truly want to know.

I have a vision.

I see me getting a chance to talk to those in power, to put aside the things that divide us and let them know how much I care about all my students, no matter what their career goals or lack thereof, that caring, as an English instructor, means not accepting work or behavior that is non-standard or inappropriate, that there are consequences at school and in the real work world for tardiness, absences, not following directions, sub-standard performance, negligence, sloppiness, and most of all, not submitting to the authority in the classroom or at the workplace.

But I also want to show them that there are real rewards, going beyond a pat on the back and a “good job,” when students work hard to improve their writing by revising and editing their work, leaving behind the “wait to the last minute, one and done” mentality so many of them have when it comes to writing academic essays and professional reports. My students, the ones who are teachable, truly do become better writers and communicators in school and in the workplace, and they know it. They know that it is largely their effort bringing them there, and it empowers them. Isn’t that our collective goal?

I want so much to let the board members and administrators understand the passion that I have for my work, that it is not just a job for me–as a devout Christian, I consider it my calling–a sacred honor to help my students communicate better, even those, maybe especially those, who malign me or do not go through the college’s grievance policies to lodge complaints about me and other instructors. These students need me, and I want to help them. I want the administrators to know that if they will only send the students back to the faculty members, or at least talk to us before instantly believing an upset or angry student, that many problems might be resolved before any escalation can occur.

I pledge that at my college, if any board member or administrator reads this, that I will be the first volunteer. I invite you to take one of my classes and actually complete the assignments by the due dates, bravely subject your writing to be evaluated, just as my courageous students do. Then, at the end, let’s talk, as equals, just two people who want what is best for our students.

It’s good to have a vision, I think, even for old English teachers like me.