Blog Share–Jeff Goins’ “The Essential Sadness of Art”

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First day of classes but have to write. It’s the only way I can cope. But I have to give my primary attention to my students. They have to come first today. So I will just take a little break and share this terrific blog post by Jeff Goins, author of five books, including The Art of Work and Real Artists Don’t Starve. Funny that this article would come from one who writes mainly about the business of writing.

That’s what makes it so great.

Here are some highlights from “The Essential Sadness of Art”:

“We want broken and beautiful, real and raw. Sure, we want abundant life, but we know it comes at a cost. And when you don’t illustrate that cost well — with sacrifice and toil — we don’t believe the story.”

“What a beautiful mess this life is. Beautiful and broken and begging to be redeemed. And for those who are listening, this is a truth that resonates.”

~~~

My students like to laugh, and we did today, but the vast majority of them have not signed up for one of my English composition classes expecting or wanting fun and games. They want to learn how to write well, or at least well enough to get the grade or the skills they need to move on to the next class.

Some of them, during the moment, might be glad if I spent the time joking around, playing games, giving “fun,” undemanding assignments, but when they moved on to the next class, they would no doubt resent the heck out of me, and rightly so, when they realized they wasted their time and money on entertainment. Writing is difficult work and effective writing can be disturbing and uncomfortable, dredging up old hurts or even creating new ones.

Writing, even expository writing, can be a very intimate, personal experience. It is often hard to get poor grades on writing assignments. No matter what the professor says about not taking grades personally, it’s hard not to. I know. I have had enough editors, agents, and fellow writers tell me not to take rejections personally, but I can’t help it. Nothing can stop the sting of rejection. It hurts.

But the goal of life is not to avoid hurt. It’s masochism, of course, to seek the hurt, but it is courage to attempt difficult things that may very well result in pain and failure that we then have the privilege to struggle through and become victorious over.

Because then we will grow.

So I will ask my students to read sad and disturbing essays and stories. I will assign them difficult tasks to complete that may cause some of them distress. I will confront them when called for and discipline them when necessary–to help them learn and grow as students and people.

I will seek to break out of my own comfort zone, go into the dark places–for the sake of knowledge and truth, even if it causes momentary pain.

In the end, we will laugh out loud and know what it means to be truly happy.

“2 My brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”  –James 1:2-4 (NRSV)

 

 

 

Best Laid Plans

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I intended to keep up better with my blog.

I intended to finish a novel and a play.

I intended to market my plays and obtain an agent, or at least work more toward that goal.

I intended to have all of my classes completely ready to go for the new semester by this time.

It didn’t happen. Life intervened in fabulous, fulfilling ways as well as horrible, heart-breaking ways.

The privacy of my family will not allow me to go into details, but I am learning that life and work will rarely ever be in balance. Perhaps for a few fleeting moments, but the balance we all seek, and should, is a lofty one and largely unreachable. We will be out of balance more often than not, but we will find ways to cope, to compromise, to hope, to find our way.

These best of times feed and hinder my work.

These worst of times feed and hinder my work.

It isn’t a balance.

It is something else altogether.

It is a body.

A mind.

A spirit.

Altogether corrupt.

Infinitely holy.

Intertwined. Inseparable.

All of this is crazy. What do I mean?

I don’t really know what life is.

But I love it.

I just wish he had, too.

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The submission deadline for the Fall/Winter 2019 edition of Teach. Write. has come in the midst of this frenzy. I contemplated extending the deadline, but I couldn’t even wrap my mind around the things I would need to do to make that happen.

So, I will print the lovely pieces that I have, and I will find the other work I need.

Or I will write them myself.

Publication is still slated for September 1.

 

 

Too Long

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This is what I get for teaching in the summer—less time to work on my blog. I almost let all of June go by without a post, but I made it!

I am saying right now, while I am in the midst of it, that I will never teach a course in the summer again. What was I thinking? Those of you who know me understand how I can get during the school year–I’m kind of intense, let’s say. Summer has always been my time to work on myself—my writing and reading, my diet and exercise, my family, my friends. Oh, and my Scrabble online time.

Not that I haven’t been doing all that.

However, I should have anticipated that teaching a composition course in eight weeks instead of sixteen is naturally going to take up a big chunk of time. And it has. Yet, I’m not sorry that I have done it because even if I do not succumb to the allure of teaching in the summer again (oh, Lord, I hope not ), I have learned a great deal that I can apply when teaching my sixteen-week classes.

Here we go:

  • Streamline assignments–I found that with fewer assignments, students are getting an ample amount of writing practice. I have also found that I can assign less time for assignments and still get the same quality of work from students. Giving weeks of time to complete the major assignments doesn’t seem to help either. Plus, I don’t have weeks of time when teaching a sixteen-week composition course in eight weeks.
  • Compact assignments–I re-wrote assignments to get more information in a single assignment so that I could afford to streamline. It takes some work and creative thought, but I dig that kind of stuff. Hey, course design is one of the reasons I love teaching so much.
  • Add video and text resources but keep them well-organized–I always have included a myriad of video and text resources, but with our new clean-looking LMS interface, it is easy to use labels to keep all of the student resources organized and easier to access. One tip–add resources that come from highly respected institutions (a plagiarism quiz from Cornell, which covers just about every possible plagiarism situation my students stumble across) and those that involve technology (a video about how to use Survey Monkey, which students like to use when doing field research for their capstone project).
  • Spreading out due dates–Students would find it difficult to be successful if they tried to complete two weeks worth of work in one cram session right on the day assignments are due. We can say good students get started early all we want, but the reality is most students, strong or weak, wait until the due date to complete assignments. Spreading out due dates helps students manage their time and helps me keep up with grading.
  • Introduce and summarize assignments–I have always added an introduction to my assignments, including key concepts from the text that I want to reinforce, but I have rewritten the introductions to be more intentional. I have also added summaries that include ONLY a bulleted list of what the students actually must submit for the assignments. This seems to help a great deal in avoiding confusion. Aristotle’s old advice, tell them what you are going to say, say it, and then tell them what you just said, still holds true.
  • Create screencasts–It is relatively easy to create explanatory screencasts and upload them to YouTube with my ipad. I created a screencast just the day before yesterday that is about eight minutes long and takes students through the steps to find sources on my college’s website. YouTube has a feature that makes it easy to close caption in order for the video to be ADA compliant. All together, including upload, the screencast took me about one and a half hours to create. That would be more than I might want to dedicate during the school year, but since I have only one class this summer, and this screencast will be able to be used again, it was worth the effort.
  • Stay in touch–I have always tried to stay in touch with students, but I have made an even more concerted effort to communicate with students this summer since I have more time. I try to answer e-mails quickly and maintain a light and friendly tone with students. Last night I called a struggling student and spent about fifteen minutes offering some advice but mainly encouraging her. Fifteen minutes to save her from withdrawing a second time from English composition. Time well-spent. I know in the regular school year, with six classes, I will be unable to talk to all of my students this way, but I can certainly try to make a more personal connection to online students who are struggling.
  • Encourage strong students, too–This summer it has hit me harder than usual how much my strong students need me. They need to see not only a blanket “good work” on assignments, but also remarks on their essays about specific things they have done well. Sometimes the A students are lost in the shuffle. I don’t want to forget them this coming school year when I start getting busy putting out fires.
  • Empathize with difficulties–It doesn’t hurt to be human. I try to remember what it was like to work two jobs, be active in a campus club and be in student government while I was carrying a full load of classes. Some of my students have small children to care for as well. I can’t imagine. But I need to try.
  • However, don’t lower standards–While I try to show students compassion and make concessions where I can, I never want to lower my standards. I would not only be doing a disservice to the student but also to the college and society at large. Our students’ potential employers deserve workers who can read and write clearly, concisely, and persuasively. I have to be kind but firm.
  • Maintain a sense of humor–Much undervalued in education, I think. Having a sense of humor when communicating with students, when appropriate of course, eases tensions and humanizes me and the situation. It helps establish rapport with students like nothing else and helps them realize that, wildly successful or not, this intense eight-week English composition course will be just a blip in their lives, an important blip, but not the be all and end all of their existence.

Now, I had fun! I love writing this blog and hope someone reads it, but even if no one does, I have had a chance to pull together some interesting conclusions about my experience teaching this eight-week online composition class, and it is giving me some good, good, good vibrations. Sounds like summertime to me!

Anyone for a game of Scrabble?

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DON’T FORGET TO SUBMIT TO TEACH! WRITE! DEADLINE FOR THE FALL 2019 ISSUE IS AUGUST 1! CLICK HERE FOR SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. I WOULD LOVE TO SEE YOUR POETRY, SHORT FICTION, OR CREATIVE NON-FICTION! YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A TEACHER OR A PUBLISHED WRITER TO SUBMIT!

 

 

 

Summertime

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North Carolina Coast–photo by Katie Winkler

Summertime and the livin’ is easy.

Sort of.

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I have decided to teach an eight-week freshman composition course this summer that began yesterday. People have said it can’t be done, and perhaps they are right. Perhaps it is simply too difficult of a course to teach in eight weeks. We’ll see. However, I think it is worth trying because many of our stronger students could benefit greatly if they could get both freshman comp classes completed in one semester.

Despite taking on this experimental course this summer, I will still have some extra time that I hope to spend productively. First, I have been working on a novel for several years now and am determined to finish the rough draft this summer and have the work edited and ready to go out in the world to seek fame and fortune (Ha!) by the end of the year.

Second, I want to revise, edit, and polish some of my short stories that I have not found a home for yet. Last year, I totally reworked a story that had been rejected numerous times, and it soon, after some revision suggested by the editor, found a home with the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable. It’s called “Pilgrimage” 

Another goal is to continue seeking and reviewing submissions for my literary journal Teach. Write.  When I first started the journal, four editions ago, I only accepted work from teachers of writing, but now I accept work from students of writing as well.

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If you are interested in submitting to Teach. Write. then see the submission guidelines for more details.  You can see the latest edition by clicking here. I love to see stories about teaching composition and learning to write, but I accept short stories, poetry, and essays on a variety of topics and themes. I would love to see your work!

As usual I keep busy, but never fear–I plan to do a great deal of sitting and reading on my deck with my feet up, sipping iced tea with lemon.

Ahhhhhh, summer.

Questions

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Soon I will have time to write, but tonight, it is not to be, chéri.  No watching baseball with my hubby, either. Too much to do. But I don’t want any more time to go by without posting about one of my persistent concerns–high school students taking college classes.

Here is an interesting, balanced article from Joseph Warta, a homeschooled young man writing for the conservative educational think tank The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal: Dual-Enrollment: A Head start on College or Empty Credentialing?

Warta points out both positive and negative aspects of his Career and College Promise experience at a North Carolina community college with his primary complaint being that his college classes lacked rigor, which I had never heard before. The complaint I hear most often is that my classes are too difficult.

But, of course, not all colleges or instructors are the same, are they?

I turn grades in on Thursday, graduation is Saturday, and then the summer. I will be teaching online–a pilot eight-week freshman English course that I will certainly blog about because I truly love curriculum design.

It’s funny, isn’t it?

When I went to Auburn, the university was on a quarter system; then, it moved, with most of the rest of the college and university system, to a semester system, and now the move is back to quarters. What goes around, comes around.

Seems to be true of education especially, doesn’t it?

 

End of School!!

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Only a little while longer left in the school year, so I am knee-deep in grading, but I wanted to post something–it’s been so long. I found this great article on how helicopter parenting can damage college students. I think it is important, especially since we have a growing number of high school students who are taking college-level classes. If parents do too much for their children, they can severely handicap them when they transfer to a four-year university (maybe as a junior!).

Here is an article called “6 Tips for Parenting College students” by Chrystyna D. Kouros, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

It’s good advice for all parents of college students but especially for those who are parenting a minor who is taking college-level classes.

Now, back to grading!

The growing importance of baccalaureate degrees in workforce development

battered posterMy new play about domestic violence inspired by Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book is called Battered. It makes its debut April 11-14 at the Patton Auditorium on the campus of Blue Ridge Community College. One of the best things about working where I do is the opportunity to collaborate with other departments and community members on developing art that addresses important issues in our society.

For this play, I collaborated with the director, student and community actors, technical theater students, student filmmakers, campus police, fellow professors of drama, English, psychology, and sociology as well as employees of various social service organizations in the area.

Because of having so much to do (I still teach a full load of English composition and literature classes as well, along with all of the grading, of course) I do not have much time to write, but I wanted to share some important passages from the conclusion of a white paper entitled “The Evolving Mission of Workforce Development in the Community College” by James Jacob and Jennifer Worth, published by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University:

As more jobs require higher skills, the education levels demanded by employers will continue to rise. This means that more community college workforce programs must assume that students should be prepared to complete a degree at a four-year institution or complete a community college baccalaureate. [my emphasis] Except for allied health areas, most career and technical programs lack consistent integration between the skills programs and their “foundation” or basic liberal arts and sciences areas. Most occupational programs do not require these courses for certificates, and even if students want to complete a degree, occupational faculty consider them add-ons to be undertaken after they complete their technical program sequence. This is a mistake because not only do survey data clearly indicate that most career and technical students wish to obtain a four-year degree, but the evolution of many of these occupations means they will soon require a four-year degree. [my emphasis] Even in work-based learning programs such as apprenticeships, particularly the younger students view them as a first step toward a four-year degree. The work of Anthony Carnevale at the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce has been very important in emphasizing that degrees in specific college majors lead to income gains, and his data support the belief that both specific degree skills and general skills matter in the long run for anyone attending a community college workforce program (Carnevale, Jayasundera, & Gulish, 2015). [my emphasis]

In many occupational areas where community colleges are strong—such as nursing programs—the employer desire for a four-year degree is already very apparent in most metropolitan labor markets. Moreover, the anticipated adoption of artificial intelligence by many sectors of the economy suggests
that there will be even less employment for those without a four-year degree. [my emphasis]

Thus, community colleges must continue to remain responsive to the unfolding
needs of their communities for more employees who have four-year degrees and/or possess the appropriate basic skills to obtain these degrees. Clearly there will be many students, primarily adults, who need to acquire skills quickly so they can obtain meaningful work. Community colleges need to continue to provide that opportunity, but they also need to indicate to students that they will need credentials of value if they are to be competitive in the labor market. [my emphasis] This challenge will continue to inform the future of workforce development in the American community college.

NOTE: A previous version incorrectly identified the location of the Community College Research Center as Cornell University. The Center is part of Columbia University’s Teachers College.