Two Days in the Life

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I am a Type II diabetic. My husband is a health care worker. He has been fully vaccinated for over a month but is aware that working where he does he still might be a carrier of Covid-19. I had my first vaccination, made possible by my workplace, for which I am grateful, over a week ago. I will receive the second dose on March 30.

Because of my medical condition, I have been allowed to teach asynchronous and synchronous online classes this semester. I did not request this but am thankful that the dean in my division saw to it that I, as a person vulnerable to complications of Covid-19, had the choice to telework if I did not feel safe coming to campus.

In the fall of 2020, I worked from home most days, only going onto the campus to serve an hour in the Student Success Center to relieve my colleague so that she could have a lunch break. I volunteered to go on campus for that time. This semester, I have volunteered to work two days in the Student Success Center. I voluntarily treat these days as normal work days, usually arriving around 8:30 or 9:00 am.

Yesterday was one of those days. I came in later than I usually do, around 11:00 to serve a scheduled office hour, then in the Student Success Center, then mentoring a new faculty member, grading papers, a trip to the mailroom to pick up the posters for advertising this semester’s theater production. A break for lupper (lunch and supper) at 4:30ish and then back to my office for grading at 5:20 until rehearsal for the play (I play Shakespeare and the Duke of Ephesus–you should see my costume) until around 8:00pm.

During that time, one of my colleagues, who works in marketing, came to take pictures of all of the actors in costume. I was released after I and my fellow Shakespeare/Duke were photographed. (Our director double casts when needed so all who audition can have a chance to act). Other student and community actors, crew, director, and photographer were still there. I got home around 8:35 and talked to my husband a few minutes, but he was on call at the hospital, so he called it a night, hoping not to get called in. I stayed up a while longer to do my daily yoga routine, and check student e-mail one more time. I also have decided to learn Italian! I am using duolingo, a popular language-learning ap, to do so and also use the ap to brush up on my German. (I have a degree in German, but use it or lose it, they say).

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Thursday, March 18, 2021–Today is a day I telework.

7:00 am–Rise, washed some dishes I was too tired to wash last night, made breakfast for my husband and me. We were both glad that he didn’t get called in last night.

7:50am–Ate breakfast and drank coffee while my husband read the weather and some amusing news to me. We chatted and laughed some. He always can make me laugh.

8:03 am–Started checking work e-mail. Answered two student messages made late last night. Skimmed a New York Time’s article by Judy Batalion called “The Nazi-Fighting Women of the Jewish Resistance.” Batalion lives in London and did her research for the article in The British Library. Oh. Tie into British Literature II. Filed the article to read more in depth later, knowing that I probably will not ever have time. Until summer.

8:10–My husband read a snippet of news about a man buying a porcelain bowl for $35 and how it sold at auction for $720,000. Lesson learned–Don’t underestimate anybody’s value, including your own. Continued checking mail.

8:20–Started checking in on my professional development class–a microcredential provided by the State of North Carolina through the Association of College and University Professors to faculty teaching the new RISE (Reinforced Instruction for Student Excellence) courses. I and a colleague have volunteered to take the course. No cost to the college, no cost to us. Plus, even though the course has just started, I am learning a great deal about improving online teaching for the special demographic of developmental students that I teach.

As I started checking this course, I got the idea for this blog post, so I took the time to set up the blog post, and write up my notes so far.

9:13–Break to walk up and down the stairs (to satisfy the fitbit monster), get some more coffee (to satisfy the caffeine addiction), and do other necessary things, like get dressed, make the bed, and clean my C-Pap equipment (I have severe sleep apnea–another reason I am high risk for complications due to Covid-19).

9:31–Checking in with my prof. dev. course will have to wait, but I have completed most assignments already and have until March 21 to complete the remaining two, so all is well. Good to know how my online students feel, though.

9:32–Checking e-mail again and prepping for my co-req courses.

9:47–All seems to be in order for today’s classes. I have two synchronous online classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I like working from home on these days because I can save time not having to get ready and drive to work. Then, there are the unavoidable frequent interruptions and distractions while at work. On these days when a big chunk of my day is in the virtual classroom, it just is more efficient for me to be at home.

During the few minutes of uninterrupted time, I was able to see that we are covering how to write sentences more concisely–ah, efficiency seems to be the word of the day, doesn’t it? I was also able to send a reminder through course announcements about the Collaborate session today and what we will be covering.

9:53–Checking my 11:00am class’s grades. The course I teach at 11:00 is ENG011–Writing and Inquiry Support. This class is relatively new and part of the Reinforced Instruction for Student Excellence (RISE) program that is offering the professional development class I’m taking. I think it’s a great idea, but it is too early to tell if RISE will work or not. I am seeing good results early on. (This is only the second time I’ve taught the co-requisite class, which is a support class for first-semester freshman composition students.) I am grateful to my immediate supervisor and my colleague who is the RISE coordinator for allowing me latitude to use my many years of experience with developmental education to develop, assess, revise, and re-assess the course, using my best judgment as a composition teacher for over thirty years while in accordance with the requirements of the State’s expectations. This is the fourth redesign of developmental classes since I began teaching at the college where I now work, all state-mandated.

I see that none of my students in ENG 011 are in danger of failing my class. I have been concerned about the performance of two students, however. I met with their instructor on Monday of this week to see how they are doing and to discuss strategies for their improvement. This is a best practice, according to the RISE training provided by the RISE coordinator at my college.

10:04–Checking to be sure that all grades, including zeros for work not attempted, have been recorded.

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10:10–All looked good, so I will take another short break to walk up and down the stairs and put in a load of laundry.

10:22–Checking the grade book for my other ENG 011 class that will be at 2:00pm today.

10:30-Checked and saw that two students I have been concerned about continue to struggle. I talked with the instructor of one student earlier this week. After my 11:00 class, I will check the system to see who is English instructor is and shoot him or her an e-mail to set up a time to discuss the student’s performance in the ENG 111 class. Will take one last short break before logging on to class. As a diabetic, I need to have a snack at this time to keep my blood sugars regulated.

10:45–Logging onto the Collaborate session for my 11:00am class. Some students arrive early, so I like to be in the session to greet them. This class lasts until 12:20.

12:20–Class went well. We discussed the importance of writing concisely, which is a common issue with developmental English students who are often reluctant to write and will “pad” their writing in order to meet minimum word or page numbers. I like to use a handout I have found from UNC-Chapel Hill’s writing center to aid in my instruction: Writing Concisely. Then, I showed the students how to format their documents correctly using MLA8 formatting, which is standard in our English classes at Blue Ridge. I have found that developmental students often struggle with some of the details like this because they don’t see their relevance to their everyday lives, so while I am showing them how to format, I am also giving them my explanation of how following directions precisely and paying attention to detail is an important “soft skill” no matter what courses they study or profession they enter.

12: 21–Checked my e-mail and answered a long e-mail from a disgruntled student. It took some time to find the right tone to rectify the situation. As always, I offered to meet with the student, virtually or in person, to discuss the situation further. I find that this is a good way to avoid the “e-mail wars.” Sent an e-mail to that student’s ENG 111 instructor to be sure all was well in his class and to inform him of the student’s issue.

1:00–lunch break

1:25–Checked e-mail again. Read the newsletter from the president of the college and other e-mail. Walked up and down the stairs a few times. Put clothes in the dryer.

1:40–Texted my daughter to see if she wants to go walking at the park this afternoon since the rain stopped and the sun is out.

1:45–Launched the Collaborate session and waited for students to arrive. Prepared to withdraw an ENG 011 student who was dropped from ENG 111 as required. I’m sorry about that. I think he was getting something out of my class. He was one of my most faithful attendees. One of my student’s who has been struggling came into class first and said he was thinking of withdrawing, that he is having trouble engaging in the online format. We discussed his options. I have heard this often from my students over the past year. Online learning is not for everyone. On the other hand, I have many students who never thought they would like online learning who are thriving–one of the main perks is the flexibility. Also, because of the pandemic, students are improving the skills necessary to be successful in an online environment.

2:00–Began the Collaborate session. I only have a few students in this Collaborate class, but we had an excellent class with true engagement. All explanations were made and students completed the work during the class time allotted, which is one of the State’s requirements for the co-requisite class. I like this because the support class should not add an inordinate amount of work to students who are already struggling to complete work in their ENG 111 class.

3:20–Drove to the park to walk with my daughter. It was wonderful. She is a delight. Just the break I needed.

4:45–Returned home and checked e-mail. Returned an e-mail from a student and one from a colleague.

5:00–Called the theater instructor to tell her that my daughter had volunteered to help with some of the short videos mentioned at rehearsal yesterday. She said she was just finishing up doing some re-writes of the script to eliminate the need for the videos that seemed like a good idea but were just going to be too time-consuming. I and the other Shakespeare/Duke will be doing some of the interludes she needs between scenes. She will discuss it some more with us during rehearsal on Monday.

5:26–Checked e-mail again. Nothing new. Prepared supper–Because it was pretty out and lighter later, I grilled some chicken, summer squash, and zucchini. My husband came home while I was grilling. While he relaxed a little, I finished grilling the food and completed some German exercises on the duolingo ap while I watched over the food. John and I enjoyed the dinner and a little time together.

CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical

7:25–Checked e-mail again. Noticed that I have more notifications for postings for my professional development course. Decided to grade some papers before I look at the postings by my fellow students.

8:40–Called my mother in Alabama. She had to go to the emergency room on Friday and still didn’t have tests back when I called earlier in the week, so I called to check up on her. She is better, thank goodness, but doctors still haven’t gotten down to the root of her problems. I hope when she sees her doctor on Monday they will be able to find out what’s going on.

9:30pm–Made an appointment with a friend to go walking. Checked work e-mail one last time. No e-mails from students. Going to check on my professional development course in the morning. Tuckered out, as my Great Aunt used to say, and going to bed.

10:12pm–I lied. I wanted to finish up this blogpost, and so it is now almost 45 minutes later. I also started thinking about my podcast. I had hoped to put out an episode a week, but now that I have started the two new 8-week courses, the grading load is just too heavy for me to get the work completed during normal working hours. I know I will have to grade some tomorrow and over the weekend, but I don’t have rehearsal on Saturday, so maybe I can squeeze in working on an episode of CAMPUS and get it out by Sunday evening.

Shoot. Still want to do my yoga. I deserve it.

Sweet dreams, everybody.

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“To the hard of hearing you shout”

Photo by C. MacCauley–CC by-SA 3.0

In 1983 I wrote my senior undergraduate thesis comparing and contrasting the life and works of two great writers I’ve long admired–Franz Kafka and Flannery O’Connor. Both authors’ works are unusual to say the least. Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” begins with a man finding that he has been transformed into a giant insect; Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People” ends with a corrupt bible salesman seducing a strange young woman named Joy-Hulga and stealing her artificial leg.

Many question why a devoutly religious woman from Georgia would write stories with such unusual, grotesque characters and such unsettling, even shocking, plots. One person wrote O’Connor and asked her why she wrote the way she did. Her answer still speaks to me:

“To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”

CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical is my attempt to follow in the footsteps of O’Connor. It gives voice to my concerns about what is happening to higher education in this country. It is not intended to be my reality, but it is representative of a reality as I see it.

And lament it.

No, the campus in my novel is not representative of the campus where I work or any campus where I have ever worked or studied. The characters, even the human ones, are not descriptive of any person I have ever met. They are symbols only, but they serve my point and they speak for me.

They give me a voice again.

And it’s kind of a funny voice, I think.

The newest episode, that you can access at this link, introduces the fairy godteachers Belinda McBride and Brian Teasdale and features a song with music written and performed by Curtis McCarley, my good friend, former student, and composer for our play A Carolina Story. I had fun singing backup.

View from the Blue Ridge Parkway–Photo by Katie Winkler

New Episode of CAMPUS Available

Another episode of CAMPUS is now available!! Click here to access all six episodes!

I wasn’t sure I was going to get out a new episode this week. I got kind of discouraged, feeling kind of down about the music part of this crazy podel project I’m doing. I have visions of what I want it to sound like, but I don’t have the musical ability or technological skills to make it happen, so Sunday, my normal day to publish a new episode, I just sort of gave up.

But yesterday, I had required conferences with some of my students. One young man who wants to be a nurse talked about taking difficult classes like anatomy and physiology along with two English classes AND working AND keeping his girlfriend’s children on track with online school work while she is at work. Another student works at a nearby hospital. She was tired because she had just gotten home, while her husband was leaving to go to work; he works at a hospital, too–2nd shift. She told me how she had Covid-19 a couple of months ago. She just received her second vaccine and the side effects have hit her hard. She had been told that might happen. You know, she still has gotten her work in on time and makes it to every online session that she can. Neither student has complained or offered excuses. They just keep on going. 

I listened and felt ashamed. If they can persevere, then so can I. That’s why, after work, I went back to the drawing board and finished it. It’s not what I envisioned, but it’s from my heart–a heart that is thankful for the opportunity to teach these amazing people I call my students. This episode is dedicated to them. 

Special Valentine’s Day Episode of CAMPUS

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HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY! Another episode of CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical is live on Spotify NOW!! And it includes, in true Valentine’s Day form, a love story!! Click here to access CAMPUS.

I am especially excited this week because I think this is my best episode ever! First of all, my daughter Hannah, who is a recent graduate of UNC-Asheville, earning her second degree, a BS in Music Technology, arranged, recorded, and performed Gabhaim Molta Brighde in Irish Gaelic for this week’s episode. Her BA was in Music with a Voice Concentration from Converse College’s Petrie School of Music. The value of her education, one in classic music and the other in advanced music technologies is truly apparent in her recording. I know what you’re thinking, but a mother gets to brag on her daughter on Valentine’s Day, and every other day, too, for that matter. Oh, by the way, she has a job IN MUSIC during a pandemic (not teaching), doing what she loves and was trained for. How do you like them apples?

I’m also hyped because it has been so much fun playing around with the technology that is making this dream of mine come true. This week, with the help of Audacity: free, open source, cross platform, audio software, I was able to record two songs and alter my soprano voice to sound first like a tenor and then a bass. It is a little freaky but totally cool. The second thing I did was download the sound effect of a shower running from freesound.org and add it to one of my recordings. I also laid down background music provided by Anchor, which calls itself the “easiest way to make a podcast,” and I believe it. Anchor is provided by streaming music giant Spotify as an open source podcasting platform. All of my episodes are published immediately on Anchor and Spotify as well as numerous other podcasting databases very easily and at no cost to me.

CAMPUS is my passion project, and I am doing it for fun, but I can also see all sorts of educational applications of the open source technology I am learning to use. I hope you will listen and tell others about my podel (That’s my word for podcasted novel.)

Don’t think I’ve forgotten about the other ongoing project I love, my literary journal Teach. Write. I have already accepted some incredible poetry and flash fiction for this issue, but there is still time to submit for the spring/summer 2021 edition. Submissions close on March 1, and the journal will be published on April 1. See the link above for submission guidelines.

CAMPUS, My Podel, Is Alive!!

The second episode of CAMPUS, my Podel (podcasted novel), is now available on Spotify and other podcast apps. Enjoy both episodes and follow me to be notified when new episodes are available.

Chapter Two of CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants To Be a Musical

About CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants To Be a Musical

About about ten years ago, sitting next to my husband on a trip returning from a visit to see his family in Pennsylvania, I came up with a crazy, crazy idea for a play. It would be a social satire set on the campus of a school in Western North Carolina, but it wouldn’t be your typical campus, oh no. This one would have your typical students and faculty with typical failures and successes, typical red tape binding them all; however, although some would be humans, others would not.

My campus, I thought as we rode along, would have fairy godteachers and gnomes, elves and trolls. There would be creatures of Appalachian lore, including devil dogs, moon-eyed people, and boojums (kind of like Sasquatch). My play would be a musical, and on that trip, I wrote the lyrics to several songs, including “The Enchanted Campus,” which is sung, sort of, as part of this week’s episode.

But the musical was not to be. The reasons are too numerous to bore you with here, but I couldn’t shake this idea and wanted to do something with CAMPUS. I just didn’t know what. Then, November 1 of 2019, I impulsively decided that I wanted to participate in NANOWRIMO, National Novel Writing Month. You can find out more about it here. I had worked on other novels and successfully written over 50,000 words in a month and wanted to try again.

Yes, I know. I teach English at a community college, and I wrote over 50,000 words in a month WITHOUT short-changing my students. Amazing what a writer can do when motivated.

But I didn’t have a project idea in mind. That’s when I thought–CAMPUS–Why don’t I turn it into a novel and see what happens? So that’s what I did and at the end of November 2019, I had over 50,000 words of my newest novel attempt, attempt being the operative word. However, the novel wasn’t finished, but I had plans to finish it in the coming months.

Then, in March, the pandemic hit, and I could not have worked on the novel even if I tried. My students’ needs had to come first, and their needs were many. With all my classes moving to online and many students disliking, loathing might be a better word, online learning, I had to spend my free time grading essays, writing emails, sending messages, and holding conferences. I took a couple of weeks off in May after classes were over. I started reading more, writing on my blog, and taking better care of my health. But I was restless.

It was then that I decided to start work on the novel again, but I knew to finish it by summer’s end, I would need to write every day. And I did, recording my word count on one of those free yearly planners we all get so many of in the mail. By the time classes began in the Fall of 2020, I had a rough draft.

Now what?

Considering how incredibly strange my novel project is, I didn’t see it getting a traditional publisher, so I started thinking of how I could share my writing with the world through some other means. My daughter had introduced me to the podcast, Welcome to Nightvale, several years before, and we had enjoyed listening to the quirky tales of life in the strange town of Nightvale. The producers of Nightvale have put out several Nightvale novels. I also thought how much I love acting and working with Curtis to write music.

That’s it, I thought! Why don’t I turn things around and turn my novel into a podcast that has musical elements? I even made up a a word for it–Podel. It means podcasted novel.

I shared my idea with the people who get me the most, my husband and daughter. I also shared it with my friend and former student Curtis McCarley, who wrote the music for my musical A Carolina Story. Curtis is working on music for future episodes of CAMPUS, you will be happy to know.

Then, for Christmas, guided by the advice of my daughter, a recent music technology graduate, my husband gifted me with a podcasting microphone and headphones–terrific! Then, my daughter gave me a book about podcasting, Podcasting for Dummies, and I discovered this great free app called Anchor that has made podcasting possible, even for a novice like me.

My podcast set up–photo by Katie Winkler

I’m 60. I’m nearing the end of my career as a teacher, a career that has been, at times, like any work of value, incredibly frustrating, but more importantly, it has been immensely satisfying. I have been able to help people be better communicators and better thinkers. I have been able to become a better writer myself and launch another career as a writer and editor, one that goes hand in hand with my teaching. Makes me a better teacher, in fact.

I know my podel is rough. I have already made mistakes and will make many more. But, I ain’t, as they say, getting any younger, and this dream has been deferred too long.

Gift Books

I am blessed with special people in my life and one of those people is my nephew Timothy. He is in school studying media arts and has started a blog here on WordPress called the Mugwump Diaries. You can check it out here.

Timothy and I love reading and reviewing books, and for a while now, I have enjoyed reading his reviews on Goodreads, so I am excited that he has started a book review blog. Plus, he has inspired me to get back to my own book reviews.

This Christmas, I received several books that I am looking forward to reading and two Christmas themed books that I just haven’t gotten around to until this year. It just didn’t seem right to read them outside of the Christmas season.

I will write about those last two next post but today, I just want to talk about my gift books and what they mean to me.

Where to begin? Why not at the top? I can’t wait to read In Praise of Difficult Women by Karen Karbo, given to me by a dear friend and colleague who knows that I take it as an ultimate compliment that she finds me difficult. In the introduction, Karbo says, “I love these women because they encourage me to own my true nature. They teach me that it’s perfectly okay not to go along to get along. They show by example that we shouldn’t shy away from stating our opinions. Their lives were and are imperfect. They suffered. They made mistakes. But they rarely betrayed their essential natures to keep the peace” (p.17).

Yeah, that’s what I need to read!

That same friend gave me the book immediately below that, Untamed by Glennon Doyle. I haven’t finished it yet as I was distracted by the Christmas books I was determined to read (before it was too late, ha!), but it is another one that gives voice to my feelings, these feelings I have of not being what people expect me to be, that I’m not an easy keeper, as we say in the South. Doyle speaks to women who don’t want to be defined by their roles in society, who don’t want to be defined at all. Difficult women. Troublemakers.

Women like me.

I’m getting back to reading Untamed today!

The book to the right, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell is a gift from my husband and is proof of what a treasure he is. Out of all the books he could have chosen, he picked a historical novel giving life to Shakespeare’s son Hamnet, who died at eleven, during the Plague. A few years after the death of his son, Shakespeare wrote one of the greatest works of literature the world has ever known. Hamlet. Just like my friend, my husband knows me, knows that I would relish reading a beautiful book that will make me cry. He gets me, even though I’m difficult. And he loves me anyway.

To the left is another special book, Podcasting for Dummies, given to me by my dear daughter, who also advised my husband on what equipment to buy me to help me with my big podcasting challenge of 2021–my podel or povel or novcast or whatever you want to call it–this thing that I’m doing. Her gift book is special to me because it shows that she has faith in me and supports what her mother is doing, no matter how weird it is. And believe me, you will see, it is weird. But she gave me the book because she doesn’t care that her mother does do some strange things and doesn’t do or say all of the things mothers are supposed to do or say, except the most important thing, that is. She does say, “I love you.”

And my daughter loves me, too.

A gift book told me so.

All ready for the debut of my podel (podcast novel) CAMPUS, January 10

Merry Christmas to Me (and all of you, too, of course)

Photo by Katie Winkler, December 24, 2020

I have written a crazy book called CAMPUS–A Novel That Wants To Be a Musical. Okay, so written might be a bit misleading. I have the first draft of a crazy book.

Here’s the thing–I teach English full-time and online at a community college during a global pandemic. This next semester, I will teach three accelerated composition classes (16-weeks of material in 8-weeks), two 16-week composition support classes (I have only taught them once before; they will again be synchronous online because of the pandemic), and one 16-week British literature course, maybe. I have very little time to do the necessary revision, editing, and, most time-consuming, marketing that it will require. Plus, I have no time to get together with my composer to write the music for the book. You read that correctly–this novel wants to be a musical, so music there will be–one way or another.

Here’s the other thing–I’m 60-years-old, and I’m a darn good writer, in my mind, but I’m not much of a business woman. I don’t know anything about marketing and don’t really trust people who do. I’m not sophisticated or wordly-wise. However, I’m not naive enough to think my book will be published traditionally, especially not with times as they are, and I’m not interested in self-publication, not in book form anyway.

So what’s a busy old teacher to do?

Since my specialty is 19th Century British literature, perhaps it is appropriate that I have decided, like Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Wilkie Collins, to serialize my novel; however, my satirical novel in parts will have a 21st Century twist. It will be a podcast….

Maybe.

Maybe it will be a blog or a vlog or something else entirely. I hope it will eventually be housed within a parody website. Oh, I have ideas, but not much of anything solid yet. All I know is that cutting the project into small bits, like I suggest to my students all the time, will allow me to pour my heart into teaching like I always do, but also make it possible for me to work on revising and editing the novel a little at a time and not wait too long to share it with people. Wait. Will anybody want to read it?

Who knows?

Who cares?

I’m the only one who needs to because within this world that I am going to create, no one gets to tell me what it looks or smells like, what the people in it need to be or think or feel. No one can criticize, ostracize, or minimalize me on this campus.

What happens there will be completely of my making, for good or ill.

Merry Christmas to me!

Note: If you would like to follow me on my little adventure, I hope to air the first chapter of CAMPUS on Sunday, January 10. More details to follow after Christmas.

Starting this new project does not mean that I have abandoned Teach. Write. If you are interested in submitting something, you can read submission guidelines here. The deadline for the Spring/Summer 2021 edition is March 1, 2021.

Thanksgiving 2020

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I am grateful.

For finding my passion early. I have wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As a child I would use small books to make desks for my stuffed animals and cut out tiny sheets of paper for them to complete their assignments. I would stand before them and teach them, and they always listened, never looked bored. For that

I am grateful.

For teacher-parents. Both of my parents were educators with long careers in private and public education. They brought their passion for teaching to raising their children. We traveled widely all our lives, and my parents would find teachable moments every chance they had. Dad would stop at most historical markers he saw and read them to us. He would tell us more about the area if he knew anything. Once, when we took a long trip across the country, every time we drove across a state line, Mom would read from a big book of states that she purchased just for the trip. When I attended the school where Dad was principal, I remember how he arranged for the older students to attend special opera and light opera performances. Mom bought little paperback art books for us. There was a whole set with artists from all different eras represented. I still have a few of these books over 50 years later.

Oh, so much more I remember, but I will just say,

I am grateful.

For a marvelous education. I attended public and private schools and universities in different areas of the country. Dad was in the military for much of my childhood, and we moved frequently after he left, so I went to school in Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Illinois, Oklahoma, and North Carolina. The wide variety of educational experiences taught me adaptability and widened my perspectives. At every school, I can remember at least one teacher, and usually many more, who was exceptional, who had a passion for teaching. Mrs. McBride, Mrs. Lewis, Mr. Fisher, Mr. Hill, Mrs. Riskind, Dr. Walker, Dr. Heit, and his siblings Brunhilda and Karl, Dr. Epperson, with his deep, comforting voice, and dear Mrs. Hovelman, who taught humanities and expository writing and said to a shy high school senior who was going to register for study hall her last semester, “How about being my assistant for the semester?” For all of these marvelous teachers…

I am grateful.

For a long career doing what I love. I began my teaching career formally in 1983, but my education provided me so many wonderful teaching opportunities. While studying in Tulsa, Oklahoma during the oil boom, I tutored students in the writing center in undergraduate school and through that job was hired to teach English to two elderly Iranian ladies who only spoke Persian. A Cambodian couple woh served at the Chinese restaurant where I worked hired me to tutor them in English when they found out I was studying to be an English teacher.

Upon graduation, I was hired to teach English and German at a private Christian school in Aliquippa, PA. I loved much of my teaching there and had many wonderful experiences, the best was meeting and falling in love with the man I have been married to for almost 32 years, but I didn’t make enough money on a private school teacher’s salary to afford to live, so I headed back home to attend Auburn University.

While working on my second degree in English Education at Auburn, I did my student teaching at the same high school where my mother was a librarian and taught under the tutelage of another great teacher, Mrs. Claire Fields. It was rough being a student teacher, but it did not deter me from wanting to teach.

After graduating from Auburn, I taught English and German for Floyd County Schools in Rome, Georgia, then married and moved to Canton, Ohio. Even though I didn’t formally teach in Ohio, I got a position as a job trainer for Goodwill Industries and continued to use my teaching skills helping differently-abled people develop soft skills and learn various trades.

When we moved to North Carolina, and I couldn’t get a teaching position right away, I went back to school, receiving a graduate assistantship at Western Carolina University. I tutored in the writing center for the first semester and received the Kim L. Brown Award for Excellence in Tutoring. For the following two semesters, I taught freshmen English. My last semester, I received the Theodore L. Huguelet Award for Outstanding Graduate Assistant, which was an honor made even more special because Dr. Huguelet, who taught Milton, had been one of my favorite professors. I graduated summa cum laude and was inducted into the teaching honor society of Phi Kappa Phi. For one year following graduation, I taught tenth-grade English at a local high school. I won’t lie. That was a difficult year. Nevertheless, for all of my early teaching career and higher education

I am grateful.

For my current position. Since 1995, I have taught English at a community college south of Asheville in Western North Carolina. For six years I was an adjunct, which was perfect as I had plenty of time to be with my daughter while she was little but not have a big gap in my career. My experience teaching most English courses offered at my college and receiving positive student evaluations led to me being offered the full-time position that I continue to enjoy. For this

I am grateful.

For all the College’s employees and stakeholders. One thing that the pandemic has made abundantly clear is that everyone who works at a college is in some sense an educator. I am thankful to have the support of so many who truly care about the work they do. We don’t always agree, but we must remember that we all have different work to do, and that it is all important. We can disagree and still work together for the good of our students.

I am grateful.

For our students. Expressing my gratitude to them exceeds the time I have this Thanksgiving morning. My daughter is on her way to help us prepare our Thanksgiving Feast, and my little family deserves some gratitude heaped on them this day. Because for them, for my life as teacher, daughter, wife, mother,

I am eternally grateful.

Thoughts on Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

My work has kept me so busy that it took me a while to finish the latest choice for the Western Carolina University Alumni Book Club that I joined this summer.

The book is Just Mercy, written by the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama that has been instrumental in helping to overturn many wrongful convictions and reduce the harsh sentences of poor and disabled people in Alabama and around the country.

The end of book discussion included the following provocative prompt: “A critical theme throughout Stevenson’s book is that the fight for fair and equal treatment of all people under the law is a long and ongoing struggle. Setbacks are common and must be overcome, and even in the aftermath of great victories, there is still more progress to be made. For example, the Supreme Court originally upheld the use of the death penalty on convicted minors, but this was later successfully overturned in 2005; still, the fight for fair and humane treatment of minors in the criminal justice system continues. How does this understanding and approach lead to more effective organization and activism on behalf of marginalized people?”

Here is my response: Stevenson touches on the most powerful approach to effective activism for the sake of poor and disabled people in Chapter Fifteen, titled “Broken.” Stevenson recognizes his extreme brokenness after trying to comfort one of his clients on the night of his execution. On the verge of giving up in the face of overwhelming injustices, the author admits to himself that he is as broken as those he is trying to save, but remembering his own past failures, he finds the strength to go on.

He says, “You can’t effectively fight abusive power, poverty, inequality, illness, oppression, or injustice and not be broken by it. We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent.”

There is such humility in recognizing that you are weak and will fail. We are too seldom willing to be humbled by what we cannot do and too often inflated by superficial accomplishments, even when “doing good.” We must ask ourselves if our altruism is born of deep empathy or shallow pity. I must ask myself if I am willing to continue fighting for liberty and justice, even in the face of defeat after defeat, even if I am never recognized for my efforts, or in some cases ridiculed for them. I hope I am, but I don’t know. Time will tell. I do know, however, that this book has inspired me to try.

Mrs. Winkler’s Last Summer Book, but She Keeps Reading

The last book I finished before the craziness of teaching all online, synchronous and asynchronous, was a book my brother gave to me a while back, and I finally pushed through the stack to get to it.

I’m glad I did.

No one Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts is marketed to be a retelling of The Great Gatsby, and there are certainly echoes of Fitzgerald’s iconic novel here. The twists, however, make the novel rise above a simple re-telling. Jade Chang in her New York Times review describes the novel as a “skillful riff on ‘The Great Gatsby,’ which revolves around a contemporary black family in a declining North Carolina town,” an apt description of the novel.

Jay Gatsby is recast as JJ Ferguson, a young man who has left Pinewood, a small town in the Piedmont, to seek the American Dream. He returns a wealthy man, and begins to court Ava, our Daisy, who is now married to a weak man who is unfaithful to her.

Sound familiar?

Yes, some of the same themes are there, but the novel reveals the importance of setting in a novel. This is not a New York story. It is not one Nick Carraway could have told. It is not a story that any one person can tell, so we discover the hidden truths from multiple points of view, all circling around the most unlikely of Nick-type characters, Ava’s mother Sylvia, who is rooted in the soil of her Southern home.

Perhaps because I am about the same age as Sylvia, her perspective resonates the most with me. Her transformation is quiet and not earth-shattering– acceptance of herself, her past, and her place in life. Forgiveness. During the extraordinary days that have been the Summer of 2020, I have found myself learning these things, too.

And feeling good about it.

Here is a passage that captures Sylvia’s self-deprecating mood at the beginning of the novel, one of the passages that drew me into this amazing woman’s story:

“None of that hoping and believing girl was left in Sylvia now or at least she couldn’t be found. The woman she was now didn’t yearn for sophistication, and as far as she could tell she’d stopped yearning for much at all. The woman she’d become was fat and weighed down, but not just fat, dumb too, and always in the process of adjusting, like there was two of everything, the real thing and the shimmering copy that her brain had to work with focus and concentration to integrate. Her brain in slow-mo or she felt slow–same difference. The result was the girl she’d been had evaporated from her body like an emancipated soul.”

What I like is that Sylvia makes an honest appraisal of herself here. She is not eliciting pity–simply telling the truth.

I find that refreshing.

That is why I liked No One Is Coming to Save Us. Although it first seemed to focus on the deprivation of a black community in the South, I quickly saw it isn’t only about the African-American South or even about poverty in the contemporary South. It is about the American Dream and how these people, in this special place and time, define it, how they lose it or make it come true.

My next book review will be about the next Western Carolina University Book Club read, Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. I have seen the movie version of the book, too, so maybe it will be a book/movie comparison. Spoiler alert: the book is better than the movie, but the movie is very good.

Also, I will soon be unveiling the 2020 fall/winter edition of Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal, slated to appear October 1.

So come back!!