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.
I have been busy, as usual, but having loads of fun and enjoying my summer immensely. Last weekend I attended my fourth Squire Writers’ Workshop sponsored by the North Carolina Writers’ Network at Appalachian State University in Boone. I usually attend the fiction workshop, but this time I challenged myself with the creative non-fiction class taught by Zachary Vernon, an English professor at Appalachian State University.
Professor Vernon is an excellent instructor–knowledgeable, informative, and most of all, respectful of each writer’s work. I am working on a book about teaching, which my mother has inspired me to write. When I was visiting her in Alabama after her recent hospital stay and was talking about some of my work in my classes this past year, she said, “Katie, you should write a book about teaching.” How could I say no?
I took a chapter of the book in progress for critiquing at the workshop and received such encouragement as well as fantastic suggestions for improvement. Not only that, but I made new writer friends and reestablished friendships with writers I have met in previous conferences. I stayed in a dorm, ate in the cafeteria, drank beer at a popular student watering hole, ate dinner at a professor’s lovely home, and just had a great time. So good for the soul to be around people, other than my dear family and close friends, who encourage and support me.
If you do not know about the North Carolina Writers’ Network, then I encourage you to take a look. I have been a member for quite a few years and am now on the board. Even if you don’t live in North Carolina, you can take advantage of the many opportunities available to writers, including online classes. I am pleased that I have been asked to facilitate an online workshop about alternatives to traditional publication, including blogging, of course.
Click here if you would like more information about the network and the whole 21-22 online workshop series, including my session: “The Big Share: Alternative Forms of Publication in a Digital Age” (Multigenre).
Just a few days before the workshop, I taught 5th and 6th graders during the drama camp at my church. From casting to performance in 4 1/2 days. The camp was something I was, frankly, dreading but ended up enjoying. More about drama camp in another post.
Before that I had a stretch of not too much activity (thank the Lord), so I did some reading. First was Little Platoons: A Defense of Family in a Competitive Age. Again, my dear mother suggested this book to me. Our politics don’t always align, but as she read a review of this book to me when I went to visit, I thought it sounded interesting, and it was. Feeny is able to explain what I have long seen as a problem in American education–the emphasis on where children learn, using children as a way up the social ladder.
However, he does not vilify parents. Far from it. Of course, he discusses the role parents have, especially privileged ones, in pushing for their children’s entrance into elite kindergartens and private schools and then on into the most prestigious colleges and universities, but he explores at length what drives these parents and what the consequences are for less privileged students.
Feeney suggests that the institutions, through the admissions offices primarily, are perpetuating this class bias by increasing the competition and constantly changing the requirements for admission to make themselves look better.
When discussing the current admissions scandals, he says, “The incentives that drive the process leave us in our current unhappy predicament, in which everyone seems to acknowledge that college admissions has gone wildly out of whack, but the only people truly situated to make it better–the admissions officers of prestigious colleges and universities-keep introducing new ways to make it worse.”
Despite his indictment of admissions departments, Feeney acknowledges that the problems of our current educational institutions are a result of a cultural shift where a child’s education is no longer a means to an end but a constant series of wasteful competitions. “This happens,” he writes, “when competition becomes a self-fueling cycle, competition for its own sake, and it consumes more value than it generates.”
It is not only the elite in society who are generating this “dissipative rivalry,” to use a term Feeney borrows from his research. I see this clearly at the community college level–basing the success or failure of a college on the number of students recruited and retained long enough to “count,” encouraging high school students to take more and more college level courses without determining if the students are ready academically or psychologically for those classes, steering students toward business, STEM, and health-related programs instead of promoting all programs of a college. The list goes on and on.
You can see that Feeney’s book had an impact on me, and its more conservative approach to the problem in a strange way increased its veracity in my mind. We don’t have to be on the same political spectrum to agree that something’s rotten in American education today and that we need to work to change it.
The next book I will review is special to my heart because it is a gift from my only child. She is a music technician who loves manga and anime, especially horror. A few years ago I wrote a stage adaptation of Frankenstein, and Hannah created some of the music and sound effects for the show. She regularly searches the manga section at local bookstores for new horror titles and found this version of Frankenstein by celebrated manga artist, Junji Ito. The adaptation is more faithful than most versions I’ve read, especially at the beginning, and the art is simply astounding–truly imaginative and appropriately horrific.
Following Junji’s adaptation is a series of original horror tales, featuring a school boy, name Oshikiri. I enjoyed all of these tales, but my favorite was “The Walls.” Spooky. Spooky.
The best thing about this book, of course, is that it is a gift from my kid–not for any other reason except she saw it at the bookstore and thought I would like it. Pretty cool, huh?
Last book I finished reading before I got so busy is pure escapist fun–Worth Dying For, a Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child. Jack Reacher is an ex-military police officer who roams the country righting wrong, fighting evil, and working hard to stay alive. In this novel, Reacher finds himself in Nebraska, trying to solve the disappearance of an eight-year old girl.
I like that Child spends time with characters that are often simply glossed over in action thrillers, present just to give the hero someone to save. Not so in this the 15th Jack Reacher novel. Dorothy Coe, a woman in her 60’s who lost her daughter and her husband years before, is the typical grieving mother in expected and poignant ways, but she is also smart, brave, and tough. Since she is about my age, I kind of like this portrayal.
I’m still reading and stocking up on my titles for my trip to Pennsylvania, including the poetry books by my friends at the writers’ workshop and finishing Coyote Loop by my friend Charles Fiore, so be watching for more reviews. Oh, I hope to get another episode of CAMPUS out soon as well.
One thing I love about creative work is serendipity. What a wonderful occurrence when things just fall into place. It was last summer when I was writing every day to finish the rough draft of CAMPUS when I started doing research to find the right piece of music that I imagined would inspire a fifteen-year-old girl, uninterested in the concert of classical music she was “forced” to attend.
On the Kennedy Center’s website, I found a short article, written for young people, about The Moldau, by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana. According to the article Smetana was inspired by his love for his country and for the Moldau River that runs through the Czech countryside and into Prague.
It is a musical poem, telling the story of the river’s journey as it encounters the people and landscapes that Smetana loved. There is even a musical description of whitewater rapids! (“Down by the River”).
Being a musical novice, I appreciated the simple language of the article that explained how the French horns and trumpets could represent hunters chasing deer through the forest and violins playing a polka at a wedding feast. Flutes become mermaids in the moonlight. Below the description of the piece was a video of The Moldau being performed at the Kennedy Center.
I knew I had found the piece that had inspired my character.
But it doesn’t stop there. Oh no. Now, I had to find a recording in the public domain that I could freely use. Would it be possible? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I support creative commons for a reason, so that’s the first place I went and I wasn’t disappointed. A simple search led me to a recording of The Moldau in the public domain provided by Musopen
I learned that, I’m quoting from their website, “Musopen is a 501(c)(3) non-profit focused on improving access and exposure to music by creating free resources and educational materials. We provide recordings, sheet music, and textbooks to the public for free, without copyright restrictions. Put simply, our mission is to set music free.” I discovered all sorts of things that will help me with this project and more. The website even has a free streaming classical radio station that I’m listening to as I write this.
But there’s more!!! I uploaded the music into Audacity (another open source that I love) and then just started reading the lyrics to my song, “The Liberal Arts.” It was such an incredible experience—without planning or manipulating anything, the lyrics of the song just seemed to fall into place with the music. Is this what musicians feel like when they are improvising? Whatever it is, it’s a great feeling.
Now, full confession—the piece was too long for my song, so I did cut some out of the middle, so I could have the ending that I love so much. Sorry to you musical purist out there, but not really. I am creating, feeling free from the shackles of having to do anything any certain way. Good or bad, this podel is mine, and I love it.
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).
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.
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.
1:25–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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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,
So don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. Okay, enough with the Fleetwood Mac allusions. I’m getting a little bit punchy. It’s been a whirlwind start after a quiet summer without the usual activities. Sad? Yes, in some ways. I miss being with my friends and extended family but also very healing–a time to focus on exercising, cooking, reading, and writing–for myself!!!
I did work a great deal on my classes, taking my knowledge of new technologies and integrating them into my already strong online classes. (No brag, just fact) Our distance learning staff has been doing a lot of course redesign training, and I am trying to put their ideas into practice. So far, students seem to be responding well to the changes.
Speaking of students, I need to get to it, but I will leave you with a link to a great article from Inside Higher Education about the positive side of remote learning and the incredible job some inspired faculty with a passion for education, like the people I am blessed to work with, are doing.
This summer continues to be a time of renewal for my spirit, but it hasn’t been easy. My reading adventures, working on this crazy satirical novel , and being alone so much have led me to confront many uncomfortable realities about myself–I have lacked resilience and settled for mediocrity much of my life. I’m often petty, self-absorbed and self-righteous, easily angered, hypocritical, thoughtless, vain, jealous, etc., etc.
Oh, don’t worry, I continue to love myself. That’s kind of the problem. I think of myself more highly than I ought, methinks.
Many of the books I’ve chosen to read this summer have helped me to see some of my many weaknesses, and also, thankfully, validated some of my strengths. As always, the two are inextricably bound to one another. But the book I just finished has not only convicted but also bolstered my spirit and renewed my resolve.
The book is Real Christianity, a paraphrase (by Bob Beltz) of William Wilberforce’s A Practical view of the prevailing religious system of Professed Christians, in the higher and middle classes in this country, contrasted with real Christianity written in 1797. The title alone explains why I read the paraphrase, but someday I will read the original.
William Wilberforce was an abolitionist and member of parliament who helped to end slavery in England. His book, however, never explicitly mentions the battle to abolish slavery, and it addresses, as the original title suggests, the middle and upper classes of the British Empire.
But it didn’t take long at all for me to see myself and my country in the pages of this modern paraphrase, written in 2006 by the man who was one of the producers of the very good biopic Amazing Grace, that tells the story of Wilberforce’s twenty-year fight. More about the movie later.
For example, here is a quote from early in the book:
“We must remember that almost any ideology can be distorted and misused to bring misery to multitudes or justification to the most bizarre behavior. Nothing is more dangerous. That which is intended to motivate goodness and restrain evil actually can become the instrument of that which it intended to restrain. History is full of examples of how virtues such as liberty or patriotism become twisted when separated from a healthy and authentic faith. Twisted men in every generation and occupation have twisted whatever they must twist to get what they want. Why should we expect that some within the Church would not be guilty of the same actions?” (46).
Wow! See what I mean? And it was written in the 18th Century! Wilberforce himself struggled with the same issues he writes about. He is remembered for being a force for good, for valid reasons, but, of course, he struggled and failed miserably at times, especially in allowing slave labor, thinly veiled by the concept of “apprentices,” to continue in the abolitionist colony of Sierra Leone. See this interesting article on the subject in The Guardian.
See what I mean? Conviction and renewal. Convicted by Wilberforce’s words and renewed by the knowledge that his failure was, and mine is, inevitable. Renewed? How does being reminded of failure possibly revive my soul? Another paradox of my faith, I suppose. I see that the answer is not abandoning my faith or ceasing to struggle to do good, but knowing that I can ask for and WILL receive forgiveness, I can continue striving to do some good in the world.
Not a bad lesson to pass on to my students, is it?
Here’s another one:
“Money and ambition have become idols in our time, especially for individuals in the business and professional worlds. Disguised as common business practice, these forces are allowed to gather great momentum in our lives. Arguments about being diligent at what we do, becoming successful in our profession or providing for our families seduce us so that we no longer have a clear sense of judgment about these issues. Our work consumes us” (73).
It is important to keep in mind that he is addressing Christians here, not people who do not claim to be believers. Knowing that, these words strike me to the core. I have let my work consume me. I have become as data-driven as the rest of the world. What is my retention rate? How many students passed that essay with a C or better? Let me check how many hours I spent working on the LMS. Look at those FTE’s, will you?
I am convicted, but I am renewed because, since March, I have been working from home, so thankful that I have been forced to concentrate my efforts on the people who need me–my family, my friends, and, my students.
It’s about time.
If you want to know more about Wilberforce and the battle to end slavery in the British Empire, I highly recommend the film Amazing Grace. Strong performances, especially Benedict Cumberbatch as England’s youngest ever prime minister, William Pitt the Younger, who was a great friend of Wilberforce’s.
Wilberforce, William. Real Christianity. Revised and edited by Bob Beltz, Regal, 2006.