Episode 13 of my podel (podcasted novel) is now available. Why not take a listen to it and the other twelve as well? I hope it won’t be so long between episodes again. Episode 13: Mrs. Whittakers 7,360th Class
Tale End of the Baby Boomers
I stated in my last blog that I would review the book my daughter gave me for Christmas, but I’m going to put that off. Recent events at work have caused me to revisit some “teachable moments” in my past that have shaped me as an educator and a human. But come back for the review. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a little book packed full of wistful wisdom.
And now, here’s a little bit more about Mrs. Winkler back when she was Ms. Whitlock.
I was born in 1960, towards the end of the Baby Boomer generation. Kinda awkward I’m finding, especially as a woman. Unlike some women born in the ’40s and ’50s, I inherited some of the privileges that had been denied them but still had, and have, a long way to go, baby.
At least I could open a bank account.
Yes, that’s right.
Writing for the financial website Spiral, LeBach Pham writes that although women had been financiers in America throughout its history, it was not until the ’60s that banks could no longer legally keep a woman from opening an account. (Pham). I was 14 when women obtained the right to open a credit card account or to take out a mortgage on their own thanks to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, although I wasn’t ready to have a credit card until I was well into my 20’s.
I suppose in my early years, I took for granted some of the privileges that many women, especially college-educated women, had fought so hard for. Part of the reason, I suppose, is because my wonderful parents were both fierce supporters of education. I remember one of my favorite family pictures before my younger brother was born is my father, smiling, seated in the middle of the picture with me, the youngest at the time, about two or three I think, on his knee, then, my gap-toothed brother and my sister, the oldest, standing on either side of him. Behind my father, arms reaching out and resting on her children’s shoulders as if to cover her whole family, is my mother, in her full regalia, having just graduated with her BA in English from Auburn University.
After graduating from Lanett High School in Lanett, AL, my mother, who wanted to see a bit more of the world than the little cotton mill town where she was widely known as the principal’s daughter, headed out to Shawnee, OK, to attend Oklahoma Baptist University. For her day, it was a bold move, I think, to attend a university over 800 miles west of her protective home.
My mother tells the story of how she arrived by train that first year and walked with her bag toward the campus to see it covered in black. As she got closer she realized what she was seeing a giant swarm of locusts. Big black and gold locusts. She said she couldn’t move without stepping on one. I couldn’t imagine anyone staying after that introduction, but mom did and went back the next year, even after falling in love with my dad, whom she had known all through school but never dated until that summer after her first year in college.
She had promised my grandparents she would go back one more year and she did. But it wasn’t until after marriage and the birth of her first three children that my mother finished her degree at Auburn University, with my dad’s full support and encouragement
I remember going far away from home, too, when I was right out of undergraduate school. I went to Oral Roberts University during the 900-foot Jesus years. You had to be there. Nevertheless, I feel I got a good education at ORU. Yes, I had to take a course called Holy Spirit in the Now, but I also took Survey of the Old Testament and Survey of the New Testament. Those two courses have served me well as a student and teacher of literature, especially at a community college in the buckle of the Bible belt.
My first teaching assignment was at a small church-affiliated school in Aliquippa, PA, outside of Pittsburg. Until I was flown up to the school for an interview, I had never been anywhere near Pittsburg, had no relatives there, and knew no one, but, just like my mother, I saw it all as a grand adventure. The school was small, and I taught three levels of English and two levels of German.
Turned out it was rather out of the mainstream theologically, but I did not become aware of this until after I took the job, even though I asked specifically about the church’s and school’s doctrine during the interviews. For example, although I had hauled all my German Christmas materials with me and moved them into my little attic apartment, I wasn’t able to use them because the church was vehemently anti-Catholic and did not believe in practicing any of the “pagan” holidays, so I just kept my copies of “Stille Nacht” in my files at home.
At the very first faculty meeting I attended, soon after I was introduced, our principal announced that he wanted all of the teachers to incorporate into our curriculum the support of prayer in public schools. He looked at me and the one other English teacher and said, “You will have your students write letters to their congressmen in support of prayer in schools. I will give you a sample letter I want them to follow”
Without hesitation, I said, “No, I won’t be able to do that.” He looked shocked. I looked around the room and the other teachers, especially the women, seemed shocked as well. I felt that I needed to explain. “I will discuss writing persuasive letters to our congressmen and create an assignment, but I want my students to write about the issues that are important to them and formulate their own letters.”
Everyone seemed still surprised.
“Of course, if they want to write and send letters to their congressmen about prayer in schools, then I will assist them in editing the letters, but I can’t require them to write those letters.”
A silence that spelled trouble for me from then on.
And yet, several of my fellow teachers, all women, came up to me after that faculty meeting and thanked me. They called me brave. It was my turn to be surprised. I didn’t feel particularly brave, just strong in my convictions that teaching writing didn’t have anything to do with religion or politics, no matter where I was teaching.
I remember speaking up again a few months later when I found out that the single male music teacher was making more money than I was. He had let it slip when he was hitting on me. I was appalled (at both) He had less education, fewer responsibilities–I had five preps in two disciplines, morning duty, lunchroom and afternoon duty as well as serving as assistant soccer coach and theater director. He had his classes, four I think, including band and choir practice.
I marched down to the principal’s office and just asked him–Why is so-and-so making more money than me? The answer–“Some day he will have a family to provide for.”
My turn to be shocked.
I may have been able to open a bank account when I taught in PA at that small private school, but I certainly didn’t make much money to put into one.
I did go back another year, believe it or not, partly because I had been promised a raise (although it never materialized), and partly because I had a long talk with my very wise daddy who had seen growth in me that first year and just felt I should go back. He wasn’t sure why. Always trust the instincts of someone who loves you, I thought then and still do. But the biggest reason I went back was pure orneriness, I reckon. Yeah, I thought, you fellers are going to have to deal with an uppity southern woman one more year.
At the end of that year, after I faced the fact that I couldn’t afford to live on the salary I was making, I began to enjoy the fruits of my labors. I started dating, Mr. Winkler–the best man that I know and as wise as my sweet daddy.
I came back South to get my second degree at Auburn University. Mr. Winkler, followed me down South a year later, and after I finished my degree and started working for Floyd County Schools in Rome, GA, I became Mrs. Winkler and have never regretted it one bit almost thirty-three years later.
However, while I was still Ms. Whitlock, teaching English and German at two high schools in the county, I still felt that “in-between” feeling, although I did enjoy some privileges denied me at the private school –being paid on a state teaching salary schedule at least. This meant I was supposed to be paid as much as a man, but I noticed that most of the male teachers also had paid coaching positions at the school, while I was assigned assistant soccer coach as one of my regular duties–no extra paycheck came with that.
But, I was making a decent salary at least, enough to even open a credit card account and take out my first loan to buy a new car. This time the inequities were more subtle, but very much there. For example, at one of the high schools where I taught, I had the star football player in my class–he was the kicker for the team. Now, I am no football expert, but my father had played football for Auburn and been a football coach so I knew enough to know, after watching a couple of games, that this kid was, well, not very good.
However, he and the administration felt differently about his abilities I guess.
One day in class, the students were working on an assignment, and I looked up to see that our star football player was putting a small paper cup under his desk. I walked toward him, and the cup fell over, spilling out a disgusting black liquid. Tobacco usage of any kind, including chew, even in that rural part of a Georgia county, was strictly forbidden; the faculty had been strongly reminded of that in a recent memo from the principal. So, I called the kid on it. He claimed it wasn’t his cup. “I saw you put the cup under your desk,” I said and wrote him up for detention.
Later that day, I was summoned to the principal’s office. The principal had barely spoken to me before that day. “You’re new here,” he said, “so you may not know that so-and-so is our starting kicker and an important member of the team.”
“Oh, I’m aware that he’s on the team, but I saw him put a cup full of tobacco spit under the desk. It fell over, and he refused to clean it up, so I wrote him up for a detention.”
“Did you actually see so-and-so spit in the cup?”
“No, I suppose I didn’t.”
“He says he didn’t spit in that cup. That he was covering for his buddy.” I tried to continue my argument but was cut short. The principal said, “I’m going to rescind this detention because you didn’t actually see so-and-so spit in the cup, and if he gets one more detention, he will have to sit out a game, and he’s too important to the team.”
I knew it would be better for me to say nothing, and I knew it probably would do no good at all to say anything, but just like in PA, I couldn’t help it, I spoke out. “Okay, I suppose you are going to do this no matter what I think, but I will tell you that word is going to get around quickly that I have no authority in my own classroom, and I am going to have more and more trouble.”
That my prediction came true has never given me any comfort.
And yet, over thirty years later, I am still speaking out about the dangers of administrators ignoring the ramifications of taking authority away from the teacher in the classroom. I’m still predicting how that loss of authority is chipping away at the academic integrity of our schools, colleges, and universities.
But who am I? A little, mouthy Southern woman–just another boomer on the verge of retirement.
Booking in the New Year
At work, in our faculty work room, is a white board, left over from the days when the long, thin room was an awkward and undesirable classroom. After much complaining, the room was repurposed for its current, much more appropriate purpose.
I think it was my late friend and colleague who first started writing fun questions on the board for her fellow teachers to answer. She was like that–trying to find ways to bring us together, reveling in her new found profession, interacting with faculty in the room where she had been a student, my student, and then become an adjunct, using the room as an office and meeting room amidst the sound of copier, shredder, refrigerator, and ice maker.
But she loved it because she had become a teacher, something she never knew she wanted to be and found out she was born for. When she received her master’s, now qualified to teach more than developmental classes, my friend left the faculty workroom for her own office at the college, now a full-time instructor who became the faculty advisor for the writing club and school newspaper, one of the most innovative instructors I’ve ever known.
My friend left us much too soon, succumbing to the effects of an aneurism she experienced at the college right before her class was about to start. But her friends continued to write questions on the board, the faculty, most who never knew her, continue to post their answers, sometimes half-heartedly, though, as more responsibilities are piled on us, as we are forced to learn more systems that are supposed to help make our work, or someone’s, easier, and as morale sinks lower and lower.
When I returned to work after the holidays, someone had written a new question on the board: What is your New Year’s resolution? Trite perhaps, but I was the first one to answer it–Read more good books.
So, my dear student, colleague, friend whom I miss so much, I will try to stay true to my resolution for your sake, knowing that your spirit remains in the faculty workroom and meanders down the halls and into the classrooms.
Here are descriptions of two books I have read so far in 2022 (pictured above):
Leavings by Wendell Berry–This collection of poems is amazing. Published in 2010, the book speaks of Berry’s personal and our global place, of what its like to grow old and feel hopeless, yet strangely grateful, of continuing to fight the good fight–rescuing our planet from the greed that threatens to destroy it. Listen to his words from Sabbath Poems: 2007, VI:
“Those who use the world assuming/their knowledge is sufficient/destroy the world. The forest/is mangled for the sale/of a few sticks, or is bulldozed/into a stream and covered over/with the earth it once stood upon” (90).
“It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,/for hope must not depend on feeling good/and there is the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight./…The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?/…Because we have not made our lives to fit/our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded,/the streams polluted, the mountains overturned. Hope/then to belong to your place by your own knowledge/of what it is that no other place is,/ and by your caring for it as you care for no other place, this/place that you belong to though it is not yours, for it was from the beginning and will be to the end”(91).
Leavings left me with hope–nevertheless. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because my place is good and true and holds me close, safe from a world that does not value it, or me.
The Art of Plain Talk by Rudolf Flesch–The 1946 classic instructs how to create clear, concise prose. I came to the deserted campus during the break to pack up some of the many books in my office as we prepare to move to our shiny new building and I begin my divestiture as I prepare for my retirement. I found Flesch’s book and realized that although I may have read it years ago, I couldn’t recall anything about it. So I brought it home to read before I give it away.
Although the book is a bit dated, the points Flesch makes about the importance of clarity and conciseness are well-taken One of the biggest issues I see in student writing is wordiness and the author offers many examples of ways to cut down on the verbiage.
Here is one statement that reflects the essence of the book: “Plain and simple speech appeals to everyone because it indicates clear thought and honest motives. Here is the point: Anyone who is thinking clearly and honestly can express his thoughts in words which are understandable, and in very few of them. Let’s write for the reader and not for ourselves. Make the writing do what it is intended to” (130).
Good advice to share with my students.
Next post, I will write about the books I’m reading now:
Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh, given to me by a dear friend following a long conversation about this troubling emotion. Hanh, a Buddhist monk, gives practical advice on dealing with anger–not denying it, but embracing it and changing its destructive energy so that it can do good in the world.
The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig, a special Christmas gift from my dear daughter. It is an unusual book, a collection of invented words and definitions to describe feelings for which English has no words–some short, some essay length. Very cool. My daughter knows me well.
Fight Songs: A Story of Love and Sports in a Complicated South by Ed Southern–Ed is the executive director of the North Carolina Writers’ Network, a terrific writer, and my friend. I am enjoying his interesting work, written during the pandemic.
Today’s tally is 1,782 words for a total of 5,591. Not bad for three days of writing after a full day of crafting responses to students, grading British literature exams, and putting out various fires. Doesn’t make for much time to blog.
However, I can’t let the day go by without saying this: Academic freedom for faculty is not an option for any institution of higher learning. It is an absolute necessity. As the people hired due to our expertise in different subjects, we have an obligation to prepare our students for the rigors of the academic world if they are transfer students and the industry standards for our students that will go immediately into the workforce.
Furthermore, we should maintain that standard for ALL students regardless of their program of study, age, background, or obstacles. One standard for all student groups–regardless of their situation. We must also help ALL students reach that standard without regard to those factors; nevertheless, the standard must remain. It is in the classroom where that standard is supported, so it should be the ones who manage those learning environments, be they virtual or seated, who should decide, within the bounds of the course description established by the state, of course, how that standard is maintained.
Our accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) seems to agree. In Section Six of the Principles of Accreditation, it states:
Qualified, effective faculty members are essential to carrying out the mission of the institution and ensuring the quality and integrity of its academic programs…. Because student learning is central to the institution’s mission and educational degrees, the faculty is responsible for directing the learning enterprise, including overseeing and coordinating educational programs to ensure that each contains essential curricular components, has appropriate content and pedagogy, and maintains discipline currency.
Achievement of the institution’s mission with respect to teaching, research, and service requires a critical mass of qualified full-time faculty to provide direction and oversight of the academic programs. Due to this significant role, it is imperative that an effective system of evaluation be in place for all faculty members that addresses the institution’s obligations to foster intellectual freedom of faculty to teach, serve, research, and publish (p.17).
Shared governance and academic freedom for faculty are not rights or privileges–they are basic principles essential to the health of any institution of higher learning.
Okay, enough writing for today, Mrs. Winkler.
You got some teaching to do tomorrow. You need your sleep!
HAUNTED HENDO: ADD SOME SPOOKINESS AND HALLOWEEN FUN TO YOUR WEEKEND
Haunted Hendo: An Anthology of Short Films Featuring Mountain Mysteries and Local Lore premiered last night on YouTube. Some of the 50, yes 50, cast and crew gathered at the college for a pot luck supper. We enjoyed watching the films and seeing all our hard work come together. We kept saying over and over again, “I can’t believe we pulled it off.”
It’s been a wild ride.
At the end of the spring semester last year, Jennifer Treadway, the head of the theater department, and I conceived of a series of short films focusing on local ghost stories and legends. In the summer, the director called together a core group of faculty, students, alumni, community members, and actor/producer/writer Z. Joseph Guice, our artist-in-residence, to write the scripts for the films to be included in the series. By the end of the summer, the scripts were written.
Early in the semester, Jennifer held group auditions for all films, casting students and community members, as well as assigning people to various filmmaking roles, including directors, assistant directors, cinematographers, editors, and general crew. With limited resources, including film equipment, the schedule for filming was carefully planned and all took on multiple roles. The schedule was tight and sometimes we didn’t think we would make it, but we did.
Although sometimes frustrating and difficult, what a wonderful learning opportunity for all of us, especially the students in the Acting for Film class and those in the Film and Video Production program. The end result is eight short films connected by some ghostly introductions.
Below is a link to the BRCC Theatre YouTube Page. There, you will find the playlist for Haunted Hendo. I wrote the screenplays for Boojum: The Musical and The Tourist. I directed the film my daughter wrote and edited called The Siren of the French Broad.
AND HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!
Newest Edition of “Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal” is Now Available
Once again I pushed things to the limit, but I am publishing the Fall~Winter 2021 edition of Teach. Write. on October 1, as promised. Wonderful work by frequent contributors and new writers as well. I am constantly amazed and humbled at the quality of the work that is sent my way and honored to publish the work of these fine writers, most of them teachers.
I started Teach. Write. because I know how much teaching composition has helped me improve as a writer and how writing for publication has helped me become a better teacher. I am so glad to offer opportunities for writing teachers, and students too, to see their work in print. So satisfying.
Click below to see the edition!
I will be talking about Teach. Write., my blog, podcast, and more during my workshop for the North Carolina Writers’ Network. It is an online workshop taking place Tuesday, October 19. Click here to see more information: The Big Share.
Another writing opportunity I have enjoyed is writing two screenplays for the anthology of short films being produced at my college–one comedy and one musical. The premiere of Haunted Hendo will be October 28 and afterwards the films will be streaming online. Don’t worry. I will be sure you all get the link!
I have a vision that every community college board of trustees member and administrator, from the president on down, would take a freshman composition class from a master teacher who has been at the same college for ten years or more. The board member or administrator could choose a seated or online class, but they should take it in its entirety, complete the work by the due dates, and submit their work for evaluation. Of course, the faculty member should be informed and agree to the process. There should be agreement that there will be no retaliation if the administrator does not receive an A. (That last line was a joke–I think so, anyway.)
To get the full experience, each individual should agree to be evaluated by the instructor and receive non-degree seeking credit, but auditing would at least help administrators see what the course is like and what the demands are on the English instructors as well as the students. Imagine if every board member and administrator had on their official transcripts an A or B in an English class at the college where they serve!
I have a vision.
If those in power see what truly happens in a college English composition classroom conducted by a veteran instructor, perhaps they would become partners with the English faculty, smoothing out so many of the adversarial relationships that have developed during these difficult times that have divided us so much along socio-political lines. For this to work, however, the instructors must be allowed the academic freedom to conduct the courses as they see fit within the parameters of each college’s academic freedom policy and the guidelines of national organizations such as the American Association of University Professors. In return, the instructors must treat all members of the class honestly and with the respect that all students are due.
If we, all of us, believe what we say, that we are tired of the division and that we want what is best for the students, all students, not just those who believe the way we do, then don’t we need to start understanding what it is that students and the faculty who teach them are actually doing in their classes? Relying on hearsay, no matter where it comes from, is not the best way to gain that knowledge, is it?
I have a vision.
Imagine what could happen if board members and administrators were able to express their own opinions about topics important to their own lives and their important work at the colleges through their writing assignments. I have been teaching at my college for over 26 years, if you count my adjunct years. In that time, I have rarely been given an opportunity to share my work with board members or administrators or to find out what they do, what it is important to them, how they feel about education, or how we could work together to better serve our students, school and its employees, local businesses, the community at large, as well as the colleges and universities our transfer students will go to. I want to know what the board and the administrators think, so I can support them in their important work. I admit, I haven’t always wanted this, but I have repented my past attitudes, and now I truly want to know.
I have a vision.
I see me getting a chance to talk to those in power, to put aside the things that divide us and let them know how much I care about all my students, no matter what their career goals or lack thereof, that caring, as an English instructor, means not accepting work or behavior that is non-standard or inappropriate, that there are consequences at school and in the real work world for tardiness, absences, not following directions, sub-standard performance, negligence, sloppiness, and most of all, not submitting to the authority in the classroom or at the workplace.
But I also want to show them that there are real rewards, going beyond a pat on the back and a “good job,” when students work hard to improve their writing by revising and editing their work, leaving behind the “wait to the last minute, one and done” mentality so many of them have when it comes to writing academic essays and professional reports. My students, the ones who are teachable, truly do become better writers and communicators in school and in the workplace, and they know it. They know that it is largely their effort bringing them there, and it empowers them. Isn’t that our collective goal?
I want so much to let the board members and administrators understand the passion that I have for my work, that it is not just a job for me–as a devout Christian, I consider it my calling–a sacred honor to help my students communicate better, even those, maybe especially those, who malign me or do not go through the college’s grievance policies to lodge complaints about me and other instructors. These students need me, and I want to help them. I want the administrators to know that if they will only send the students back to the faculty members, or at least talk to us before instantly believing an upset or angry student, that many problems might be resolved before any escalation can occur.
I pledge that at my college, if any board member or administrator reads this, that I will be the first volunteer. I invite you to take one of my classes and actually complete the assignments by the due dates, bravely subject your writing to be evaluated, just as my courageous students do. Then, at the end, let’s talk, as equals, just two people who want what is best for our students.
It’s good to have a vision, I think, even for old English teachers like me.
You Know Who You Are
by Katie Winkler
You know who you are
widening round eyes
You know who you are
smiling with hooded eyes
licking pursed lips
rubbing smooth chins
For us to
Season Two, Episode One of CAMPUS now available
This summer is very different than last, which is not a bad thing, of course. However, I am getting out more and doing more that is keeping me away from working on the podel (podcasted novel), but I have episode one of the second season for listening pleasure (I hope).
I like it anyway, if that counts for anything. Here’s the link to the next episode of CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical.
Also, if you have something to submit to Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal, then I will welcome it. Submissions of the fall/winter 2021 edition are open until September 1. See the submission guidelines for more information
The promised book reviews will be coming tomorrow. I hope.
Episode 11 of ‘CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical’ Is Now Available
Working things out takes time. Here I am at 61, still trying to wrap my mind around exactly who I am and why I’m here. I thought that was something young people did. On the way to figuring that out, I got caught up in creating this crazy podcasted novel that I call a podel. CAMPUS: A Novel That Wants to Be a Musical. is a social satire about higher education in the South, and it’s a blast to do. I’m learning so much, screwing up a lot, but not caring, probably offending Lord knows how many people and not caring about that either.
I like it.
Last episode, one of my characters did a highly unusual striptease. Yes, HE did. In Episode 11, The Spooky Cat Head Biscuits, a Zombie band, perform at the club rush/advising/registration day, and during the performance, two of the fairy godteachers have to rescue Jack Spratt, a student who thinks math is beautiful, from the wiles of the devil, or rather a vampire, who tries to trick Jack into drinking hallucinogenic mushroom tea.
Yeah, it’s weird.
But I like it.
And it’s mine.
If you want to listen to Episode 11, and previous episodes, then here’s a link: Episode 11–The Spooky Cat Head Biscuits.
So, sometimes I’m a novelist/playwright/actor/singer/podcaster, writing about being a teacher, which I also am. And sometimes I am the editor of Teach. Write.: A Writing Teachers’ Literary Journal. It’s a little more normal, I think. I also like doing this work and would love to read your writing, especially if you are a teacher or you write about teaching. But I publish other types of work, too. Why not give it a whirl? I am accepting work until September 1 for the Fall/Winter 2021 edition. You will find the submission guidelines here,
Next time, I will be a blogger/book reviewer and talk about my latest summer read,