Yesterday’s Gone

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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.

Not Glorified Skype

NEXT POST COMING SOON!!!

Look for Updates on Teach. Write. and Mrs. Winkler’s reading and writing.

Encouragement

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One of the employees in our public relations department at our college had a great idea to encourage students during this difficult time by compiling short videos from faculty, staff, and administrators. I have been enjoying watching them as they’ve come out and was finally able to record my own, but alas, I was too late to be included in one of the compilations, so I decided to show it to you. I will also link this blog post to my students.

This video took only a few minutes to complete. I used the camera on my laptop, which automatically downloaded as an mp4 file, uploaded it to YouTube, copied the link, and pasted it on the blog. Wallah!

This little video may not make it to many students at my college to encourage them, but making it sure encouraged me for some weird reason.

Mrs. Winkler in Quarantine

If you haven’t had a chance to read the latest edition of Teach. Write., I encourage you to take a look:

Note: Edited version available for download. I will post the print version when it is available.

Rediscovering Music Faves

I have listened to my “Working Music” folder a great deal this week while I transition all my classes to online delivery. I chose to randomize my playlist and have been so amazed at some of the great music that has come up to soothe my soul.

Here are a couple of my faves:

The Canadian Chamber Chorus’s version of Tabula Rass by Don MacDonald. The translation of the words are beautiful and have spoken to me during this time and is a meaningful message to give my students right now:

In my arms, breathe.

Life without limits.

Light of day, dark night.

Sleep, dream, rest in safety.

With your heart, your soul, listen and know this truth:

Within you are boundless futures, if you are given freedom;

freedom to grow,

freedom to learn,

freedom to touch,

freedom to feel,

freedom to imagine,

freedom to love,

freedom to be loved.

Another great song, totally different style–I’m Alive by Dean Dillon / Kenneth Chesney / Mark Tamburino and performed by Kenny Chesney and Dave Matthews.

The lyrics are also very timely for my students and me. Go to this link to see them: I’m Alive Lyrics

So I take a listen. I take some big breaths. I make a cup of tea. I start grading more papers.

Ah, the teaching life!

The horrible looking ad that is probably showing below kind of ruins the effect of my post–thanks Word Press

Still Standing

A great deal has happened since my last post, and I have been busy converting my three seated classes to online (I already have two other online classes to maintain), readying myself to teach my classes from home. My transition has been easier than some because I have been teaching online for years and even prefer an online environment in many cases.

I know many of my students do not feel that way at all. All of my students are dealing with upheaval in their lives in so many ways, and now this. Therefore, I have taken some steps to help us move forward in our class. Here are some of the things I have done, am doing, and will do to help my students finish the semester successfully.

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Last week, when we were still meeting as a class, I started preparing my students for continuing as an online class. It has helped that I already have a robust online presence. For years, I have posted online resources, and all assignments are already collected and graded online. My students are already used to the online classroom environment in many ways. One of the first things I did was develop a survey to distribute through the LMS that asks a few simple questions about their readiness to continue online, their comfort levels as far as DL classes go, and most recent contact info. I added a comment box, where they could write any questions or concerns.

Be positive. In my communication, I am trying to be as positive as I can while acknowledging the obvious difficulties we are all facing. I try to emphasize that completing an education is more important now than ever and that strong writing and critical thinking skills, which have always been important, will be even more so in the days to come. I also tell them that I believe in them, and I do. They will face this crisis and move through it stronger than ever before. I tell them they have a resiliency that some of them don’t even recognize they have. My students are some of the best, strongest people I have ever met, and they deserve to get a quality education no matter what the delivery system.

Integrate interesting technology. I love educational technology and most of my students do, too, so have tried to add some interesting assignments over the years. They use PowerPoint and Google docs, of course, but we create infographics and annotate text electronically. I have created screencasts with my iPad to show them how to research databases using our state’s virtual library. I show them how to use Survey Monkey for conducting surveys of their fellow students. I do glossary assignments using our LMS that allow them to create study guides as a class.

I want to start using more interactive educational technologies that will allow all of my students to see and hear each other. Here are some that I have wanted to explore more, but haven’t had time to work with much until now:

  • Flip Grid—Allows teacher and students to ask and answer questions through a video format. Smartphone- and user-friendly.
  • Collaborate—Allows for synchronous or asynchronous meetings with students. Through our LMS, I can create Collaborate lessons within the course just like assignments
  • Lesson packages—our LMS allows us to create whole lessons where we can add our own discussion questions, quizzes, or other assignments within the lesson that the computer can grade and send to the grade book. These packages help track which students are actually viewing the material or not.
  • Zoom—Similar to Collaborate, it allows for real time instruction.
  • Google hangouts—I took an educational technology PD course a few years ago and experimented with Google hangouts, but I would like to use it more. Really great for tutoring sessions because I can share my screen
  • Google Maps—I have wanted to add a Google Maps segment to my signature travel project in Brit. Lit. Now is my chance to explore it.
  • YouTube—the live steaming feature will be useful.
  • So many more. I will blog about my adventures as we go along.

It is a brave new world, but I am determined that I will give my students the tools to navigate it successfully.

Thoughts at Year’s End

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I haven’t blogged much this year.

Oh, well.

It isn’t that I’ve lost interest or feel that the blog isn’t important.

I haven’t and it is.

I have been forced to…no, I have chosen, to put my efforts elsewhere.

It has been a pivotal year for me in some ways, and I have discovered many things about myself, my teaching, my students. That’s never a bad thing. It has sometimes been a difficult year, especially for some of the people I love, but even those difficulties are not without worth, without purpose. The sorrows of the year have been tempered with joy. They haven’t necessarily made me stronger, but they have helped me to realize that weakness is not a sin, not evil–it is human.

So here are some thoughts about my year as an English professor:

  • Individual conferences continue to be invaluable and should be done earlier and more often. I have long held research paper conferences with my students and have almost always found them effective, but because the research paper comes later in the semester, some students are too behind to gain the full benefit of a one- on-one meeting time with me, so in the future I want to hold conferences more often.
  • I have always liked Oxford’s “personalised learning” model of tutorials where small groups of students (three or four) meet once or twice a week with a faculty member to discuss readings and essays. Although this style of teaching is not possible when a faculty member has over 110 students in composition-heavy classes like I did this semester, I would like to move in the direction of more individualized instruction when I can and make room for it in my schedule.
  • Less is more. This year, I had too many students, too many papers, too many assignments. For example, at the beginning of the fall 2019 semester, I had 120 students–three first semester English composition classes (close to 60 students and 20 online), one second semester freshman English composition class (20 students), close to 20 online British literature I students (composition heavy) and the rest an online eight-week study skills course. That course may seem like the easy one, but I do a great deal of time-consuming direct communication with students because it is such an important introductory course.
  • I know, I know, some of you teachers out there are scoffing at my “light” load, but these heavy teaching loads are not good for us or our students, and I for one am determined to work on making my grading load lighter so I can do justice to my students and have the time to give more meaningful feedback to them, which leads me to my next thought.
  • Discovering what meaningful feedback is. This year, I have relied more heavily on advanced grading techniques provided by our LMS, particularly rubrics and checklists. I have spent more time tailor-making grading tools for each particular assignment, so each includes more feedback with less effort.
  • I still make some markings directly on more heavily graded essays, but I usually stop at the first paragraph or first page and include a statement from my “quick list” that says “I will stop line editing here. See the rest of the paper for any additional comments.” (I LOVE my quick list embedded in the LMS’s advanced grading system that allows me to save common comments and quickly add them to the graded paper.) Then, when posting the grade I include this comment or one similar to it: “See the rubric and comments on the document for feedback. Contact me if you need more information.”
  • My marks on papers are more useful to me than students. This year I have come to face the fact that most students don’t read or try to understand the marks that I make on their essays, but I continue to line edit the first paragraph or page and make spot comments throughout the essay because it helps me grade more accurately and efficiently. I typically grade ten or more essays in one sitting, so it’s easy to lose track of each paper’s strengths and weaknesses. However, if I have made comments, it’s easy to flip back and re-read them before marking the rubric.
  • The downside of plagiarism detectors. This year, I have encountered less direct word-for-word plagiarism but more academic dishonesty. How can that be? My theory is that students use the plagiarism detection software incorrectly or they do not understand or abide by the basic tenets of proper documentation.
  • Quite a few of my students, therefore, are turning in papers that are at best poorly documented and at worst out-and-out plagiarized because often they will only change around a few words or retain the syntax of the original quote. Sometimes, these quotes are simply dropped into the paper without any attempt to integrate them into the paper. In addition, some students will include complete works cited lists at the end of the papers but have no internal citations. Occasionally, they will question why this is considered plagiarism and seem truly baffled that I would give the paper a low grade or a zero. Next thought.
  • Our society thinks too highly of technology. Don’t get me wrong. Modern educational technology is a great tool. I love it and embrace it, but it is only a tool. It can’t do the heavy lifting required to be a good writer, which comes more from reading and comprehending complex texts than from any other single thing. But online writing, like this blog, does not lend itself to the deep, intense labor of reading that is needed to give birth to good writing. Also, technology makes the process of revision and editing easier in a myriad of ways, but I have yet found a truly effective way to motivate my students to use the tools technology supplies. One draft, and I’m done, seems to be the mantra.
  • Five Easy Ways. One way I have tried to help students grasp the concepts of revision and editing is through my “five easy ways” to revise writing. These are simple concepts that I learned in graduate school that can help students learn to find and revise errors. Not always effective when students have been writing one draft only for years. However, students who persist consistently improve. Isn’t that always the case?
  • The continued value of working with others. I am an extrovert. I tend to draw energy from being around and interacting with people. I like collaboration, working together with people toward a common goal. And I continue to enjoy my extroversion. One of the great things that happened this year was the world premiere of my play Battered, probably the best thing I’ve ever written and would have never happened without the director, who is one of my closest friends, the cast, crew, and so many others. It was wonderful–one of the highlights of my  career as both a teacher and a writer.
  • On the other hand, I have also been learning the value of working alone. I have been a people-pleaser most of my life. It goes against my nature to do things just for me without someone suggesting or guiding me, or vice-versa, but as an effective English instructor with 30 years teaching experience, I now see the value of not trying to convince others that my way is the best way but simply doing things my way to the best of my ability, while listening to other voices I trust, like my colleagues at the college, continuing to research andragogy, the teaching of adults, and being humble enough to honestly assess my teaching and make changes when necessary.
  • One big change I made as a result of teaching an eight-week freshman composition course is streamlining the course–fewer papers, fewer assignments, less ineffective feedback, but more information provided through advanced grading methods, which are standard for all students, and personal communication, only when requested by the student (forcing the students to take more charge of their education has been a big plus). I do NOT plan to teach in the summer ever again, please Lord, no, but I did keep the eight-week model and spread it out to 16 weeks this past semester, and all would have been well if I had not made the stupid decision of picking up a third first semester freshman English course. My fault, not to be repeated.

I definitely have plenty of thoughts floating around, but this blogpost is getting a little long and have a novel to work on and some after Christmas sales to hit, so I will sign off for now and blog some more later.

BTW, this is fun and relaxation for an English professor on holiday.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Everybody!!

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Still Here

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My last brief post from the National Council of Teachers of English conference was kind of a waste, but I wanted all my loyal fans (HA!) to know that I’m still alive and kicking. Perhaps I’m trying to convince myself that I am, but I AM HERE!!

YES, I AM!

Here’s some proof!

  • Grading, with comments, over 40 freshman composition research papers in four days, while grading numerous other work, and preparing for classes and uploading the final resources, assignments and exams for my online students, and (because I’m a glutton for punishment and take late work) assessing those inevitable Hail Mary assignments from students who kept saying to themselves, “I will do that essay later after I play just a few more hours of Call of Duty 4 and Mario Kart because, hey, it’s just English. It’s not like I’m going to need to read complex text or write professionally later in life.”
  • Attending the North Carolina Writers’ Network Fall Conference as a board member, held in Asheville this year (over ten events in three days as well as hanging out with my writing buddies that I only see a couple of times a year). I will write more about the fall conference in a future post.
  • Attending the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Conference in Baltimore with four of my esteemed colleagues (many, many events and conversations over four days), with plenty of soaking in new ideas, validating some tried and true methods, talking shop, strategizing, and just having fun together. Best professional development in a long time; I will write more about it in a future post.
  • Writing 51,027 words in 30 days as I participated (for the third time) in National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO). I took every opportunity I could to write. For example, at both conferences, I deliberately picked workshop sessions that gave me opportunities to write so that I could work on the novel. No matter what the prompt, I found a way to write material to help with the novel, whether brainstorming, character and plot development, back story, or dialogue. I also wrote in the morning when I first woke up and in the evenings before going to bad–no matter how late or how tired.
  • Taking days off.  I gave myself some downtime when I didn’t do anything but watch movies, play computer games, talk to my family, and take naps. I took partial days off and whole days off–not many, but enough. Thanksgiving Day I took totally off, and I was grateful that I felt well enough to cook, which is one of the joys of my life.

Furthermore, I did these things WHILE I HAD A BAD COLD!!! It started almost two weeks ago on the morning we flew back from Baltimore, and it still lingers today on Pearl Harbor Day, but I will not let it defeat me. I’m going strong, and….

I’M STILL HERE!!!!

But I couldn’t have done it without the help of my college, my immediate supervisor at work, my colleagues and fellow writers, my closest friends, and most of all, my husband and daughter.

Just one example: I was feeling pretty low, being overwhelmed with grading and not feeling well at all, when my husband discovered an article by computer expert Leo Notenboom, who has a blog named Ask Leo.

John read part of the article to me, and it was a balm to my troubled soul because it was about how he, a prosperous former computer programmer now running a lucrative business as a blogger, author, and consultant, wished that he had worked harder in his English classes because, he says,

People judge you by the words you use. And how you use them.

It may not be fair, but it is real. You can object, you can insist that it shouldn’t matter, but it does.

If I had to do it all over again, ’d have taken more English classes.

Later, my husband read one of my favorite passages in the article:

Regardless of your profession, writing, especially in this internet-enabled age, is becoming more and more critical. The ability to express yourself, clearly and even entertainingly, is often the difference between being good at a job and being great at it, a blog post being shared or ignored, or an email being understood or discarded.

Sitting there listening to my husband read, I was reminded why it is still important for me to be here, to be present, to put my heart and soul into my work.

Because writing well matters. It makes a difference in people’s lives.

And, if I am present, truly present, by not only standing in the classroom and marking essays but also by growing as a professional writer and educator, then I can make a difference in this world.

A difference for good.

 

 

The Quality of Mercy

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Maggie Smith as Portia–BBC

I just finished grading my British Literature I online students’ responses to The Merchant of Venice. Their words prompted a very long response of my own, which caused me to re-evaluate the “quality of mercy” in light of recent events.

When I get discouraged, it’s teachable moments like this that keep me going. 

Here’s my response:

After reading the responses to the exercises, I wanted to clarify a few things:

Number One– Shakespeare’s view of Shylock is based on white, Christian views of the16th Century, but there are many indications that Shakespeare did not espouse these views completely. The society was inherently anti-semitic, and yet, Shakespeare writes a powerful statement against racial and religious discrimination in Shylock’s most famous speech in the play:

To bait fish withal; if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies – and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge! The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.

Shylock said it, but Shakespeare created the character and put those incredible words in his mouth. 

Number Two--Portia tries to save Shylock, but she MUST fully represent the law. I urge students to read some more commentary about The Merchant of Venice or go back and read through the play again, especially the courtroom scene. Portia gives Shylock multiple chances to show mercy, AND he is offered his money back, plus some (Portia is willing to give her new husband , Bassanio, enough gold to pay Shylock twenty times over in order to save Antonio’s life), but Shylock refuses to show mercy because he wants Antonio dead in return for the way he has been treated. Understandable perhaps, but not noble, not admirable, not justified. 

In the most famous passage of the play, Portia begs Shylock to have mercy because the law, that she represents, can only render justice:

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute to God Himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this:
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea,
Which, if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant
there.

But Shylock will have none of it and then must face the consequences of his actions just as he was insistent that Antonio pay in full for his. 

Number Three–Shylock does not lose his life, and a portion of his property is returned. It is the duke (perhaps taking Portia’s speech to heart) who spares Shylock’s life. Antonio also shows some mercy by allowing Shylock to keep half of his portion of the money until Shylock dies. The harshest thing, however, to our modern minds, is when Antonio insists that Shylock become a Christian, but in Shakespeare’s day, even this would have been seen as a merciful act, because the conversion means Shylock will not suffer for eternity in hell. Modern readers will no doubt find this analysis unacceptable, but I urge students to see the play in the context of Europe in the 16th Century.

We have a superb modern example of Portia’s idea of mercy, admittedly a Christian view of mercy, in Brandt Jean’s forgiveness of the former Dallas police officer who shot and killed his brother, which has reignited the age-old debate about justice and mercy that we see in The Merchant of Venice

Read about the debate and see the clip here: https://www.npr.org/2019/10/03/766866875/brandt-jeans-act-of-grace-toward-his-brother-s-killer-sparks-a-debate-over-forgi

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!