May 7 will be the last day of the spring semester for me, and I am looking forward to a summer of reading and writing. The last few weeks have been filled with taking care of my mother who was hospitalized in March and then getting caught up with school work after taking time to help her. I still managed to get the Spring~Summer 2021 edition of Teach. Write out, though. Yay me. You can find links to both the online free version and order copies of the print version here.
However, I have had to put off working on CAMPUS, my podel (podcasted novel). I just haven’t had the time, but I have seven episodes in the first season that you can listen to here. My plan is to have the first episode of the second season published no later than Sunday, May 9. That is if all goes well. I have a lot of grading to do between now and then.
It has been a strange semester for me, not just because of the pandemic, but also because I have had so few students. Most semesters in the past few years I have had over 100 students in five or six classes. This semester I have half that number, and I am finally able to be the kind of writing instructor I wish to be. I am taking a professional development course about improving online instruction and in the course, over and over again, the material emphasizes the importance of personal relationship when teaching online.
How can this kind of relationship be developed when teaching so many students? Only when we begin to value the individual student over sheer numbers can we really begin to help our most needy students. I don’t know if I will be able to finish out my career teaching fewer students, but I know that if I can, I will be a better teacher, and my students will truly reap the benefits.
Change the subject
My mother and I were able to talk quite a bit once she was home from the hospital and started feeling better. I was working on one of my classes and describing some of my my methods to her. She said I should write a book about my teaching methods when I retire.
I kind of like that idea.
I have a great many plans for my retirement.
Dreaming of what I might do when I’m free keeps me going.
I don’t know how much I will be able to write between now and May 7, but I’ll be back, and so will CAMPUS.
Last ten days of classes begin tomorrow. Summer can’t come soon enough.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you haven’t had a chance to read the latest edition of Teach. Write., I encourage you to take a look:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.