Got to Get Ourselves Back to the Garden

Woodstock
by
Joni Mitchell
I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, where are you going
And this he told me
I’m going on down to Yasgur’s farm
I’m going to join in a rock ‘n’ roll band
I’m going to camp out on the land
I’m going to try an’ get my soul free
We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
Joni Mitchell did not play at Woodstock. She wasn’t even there. Reportedly, she penned this homage to one of the most important musical events of the 20th Century from a hotel room as she watched clips of the festival on TV. Nevertheless, she caught the spirit of that time, experienced it in a true way and wanted to return to it–knew that it would be  necessary to go back to the place where the spark became flame, built up and roared.
I was nine-years-old when Woodstock happened. My father was a major in Army Intelligence, serving in Vietnam; nevertheless, the country’s division over the war was not a part of my life then. My wonderful parents protected us as best they could from the reality of my father’s situation. Woodstock came and went while I was playing Kick-the-Can in my grandmother’s backyard, waiting for my little brother to be born and my daddy to come home.
I didn’t really start listening to Mitchell’s music much until college. I attended a rather conservative Christian university, and because I’ve always been a contrary soul, probably to get attention more than anything, I subscribed to Rolling Stone magazine and carried each issue  around with the cover always carefully arranged to show off the title. Oh, what a rebel.
joni_wild

Joni Mitchell painted a self-portrait for the cover of Wild Things Run Fast

I did, however, truly read Rolling Stone and often times bought albums that were reviewed favorably in the magazine. Joni Mitchell’s 1982 album Wild Things Run Fast was reviewed (Review), and I liked what I read, so I bought the album. It moved me, especially  the final track, based on the beautiful “Love” chapter in the Bible–I Corinthians 13.

But not until I took my first teaching job in Aliquippa, PA, working at a private Christian school that paid me a pittance (less than the male teachers with equal or less experience), did I hear Mitchell’s “Woodstock.”
In PA, one of the things I did to amuse myself was go to the nearby mall and “shop,” rarely buying anything unless I had gotten a little care package from home or pushed paying a bill back a little. In the mall was a record store that also sold cassette tapes (CDs were not a thing yet). I was single then, and there was this good-looking young man who frequently worked there, so I would always take time to visit and linger if he was working, looking through the used and discounted cassette tape bin (I couldn’t afford a record player), searching for something that looked interesting.
One day I found something of value to me–Joni Mitchell’s third album–Ladies of the xladiesCanyon. Even then the “Woodstock” track on that album didn’t appeal that much to me. I preferred the rock version by Crosby, Stills and Nash. Other tracks resonated with my single, 20-something self–“Big, Yellow Taxi” and “Conversation,” especially.
I was lonely then. Still am in many ways, whenever I’m away from my family and close friends. Then as now,  I just never seemed to fit in anywhere else. Southerner from Alabama living in dying northern steel town. Liberal in the conservative world–conservative in the liberal world. Devoutly Christian yet disillusioned with institutionalized religion. But whenever I listened to Mitchell’s songs, I just felt better. Her distinctive voice would waft over me, soothing away the frustrations of the day–the loneliness, the isolation, the otherness.

Life got much better and infinitely less lonely when I started dating the man who would become my wonderful husband. After we moved from PA and settled in North Carolina, I still listened to Joni Mitchell, now on CD, but different songs began to resonate with me–my daughter was born and “The Circle Game” became my favorite, but now when I listened to “Woodstock,” Mitchell’s piano and poetry began to sink in: “We are stardust. We are golden.” Yes, yes we were.

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by seriousfun@Morguefile.com

Then we come to yesterday–twenty years later–over twenty years doing what I love to do and in which I always thought I excelled. “Perhaps you’re not as good as you think you are,” I thought as I drove home after a particularly disheartening day, not of teaching, but of listening to how my colleagues, my friends, are being dismissed, belittled and even harassed by people who are supposed to have their best interest at heart, and worst of all, hearing an administrator, who has never taught an online class, denigrating our students in an open roundtable discussion about distance learning.
Feeling empty, I drove. Then, as if mystically planned all along, I tapped the CD player button. “Ladies of the Canyon,” the song, “Woodstock” was playing–the second verse. Joni’s voice soothed me again and started bringing me back.
Then can I walk beside you
I have come here to lose the smog
And I feel to be a cog in something turning
Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe it’s the time of man
I don’t know who l am
But you know life is for learning
We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Thanks to Joni, I’m on my way back.

wildflowers

photo by hmjmiller@morguefile.com

I have decided to add a creative non-fiction category to Teach. Write: A Literary Journal for Teachers of Writing. Send me creative non-fiction pieces about your experiences as a writing instructor. I will also be accepting poetry and short fiction. See Submissions Guidelines here.  I will be accepting submissions until July 1, 2017 for the first edition of the journal.

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Teach. Write. Not Yet.

frankenclassicI know I said that my next post would be about my new endeavor into the literary e-zine world, but I am super busy with getting my stage adaptation of Frankenstein ready for auditions in August, so I haven’t had time to work on it.

Just a little advertisement: if you live in the Asheville area, please consider making Blue Ridge Community College’s production of Frankenstein: A Faithful Adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Classic Novel a part of your Halloween weekend. The play runs October 26-31. We had our second read through (my 6th draft) of the play this past Monday with about 20 student and community actors coming out for the reading, and many of them will be auditioning. I could not have been more pleased.

I will keep you apprised of developments!!

But until I have time to work more on the e-zine, here is another great article from one of my favorite educational bloggers, Bernard Bull. The topic is humanizing educational policy. A great read.

Policies Don’t Care about People

The Art of Collaboration

Cast Meets with Susan Burk

Cast meets via Skype with Susan Burk from the Matthew Shepard Foundation during rehearsals for The Laramie Project – photo by Vince LaMonica

Not soon after I started working at the community college where I teach, I was thrilled that a new degree was added–an Associates of Fine Arts in Drama. The young woman who led the program brought back to life my love of all aspects of theater production. I had dabbled in community theater as a publicist, properties manager, stage director and actor in several places where I lived, but raising a small child and teaching a heavy adjunct load meant little time for this passion.

 

The drama department at the college brought it all back to me. Furthermore, it offered me opportunities to get back onto the stage through small roles that didn’t require a great deal of rehearsal time. Jennifer, the director, always made it doable, and the more I became involved the more I wanted to do. Because her department is small, and she is the only full-time instructor, Jennifer and I, an English teacher, started finding more and more opportunities to work together, forming a cross-curriculum relationship that has, I think, greatly enhanced both departments for the advancement of our students and has sustained us both by allowing us the creative outlets that we crave.

It all started one day, long ago, over lunch at a Chinese buffet restaurant, when we were discussing the upcoming production. Jennifer had decided she wanted to do two one-act plays with her directing one and me the other as I had expressed the desire of getting my feet wet as a director. She had already decided on one of the plays–Blue Window by Craig Lucas, but she hadn’t been able to find a suitable play for me to direct.

Almost as a joke, I said, “Hey, guess what?”

“What?” she said.

“I wrote a play long years ago. It’s called Green Room. How about that, Blue Window, Green Room.” I was almost laughing. I really wasn’t serious at all or suggesting anything, I swear.

Then, she said, “Let’s do that one.”

“What?” I said.

“Let’s do your play.”

“But you haven’t even read it. You don’t know anything about it. It might suck. I mean, as far as I remember it does suck.”

“Here’s the beauty of it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter. Whatever we don’t like, we change.”

Thus began a truly productive collaboration between two instructors. I can’t tell you what it means as a writer and an educator to have this kind of partnership, which protects Jennifer and her department from isolation and offers me opportunities to stretch the creative side in me–the writer, the actor.

We did produce Blue Window and Green Room. I ended up handing the directing baton over to Jennifer when, two weeks before opening night, one of the leads quit, and I had to step in to act. In addition, Curtis, a student who played a lead role in the play, also composed original music for Green Room and has gone on to collaborate with me, and Jennifer,  on many projects even after he left school.

The next semester I directed my first full length play, Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children. Was I crazy? Of course, I was, but of course, Jennifer was there to help me through the process, and without her expertise the show would have been a disaster. On the other hand, because of my knowledge of German (I double majored in English and German in undergraduate school), I was able to contribute direct translations from the original text when the British translations we were using didn’t work. Also, I have a particular interest in musicals, which Jennifer doesn’t share, so working again with Curtis, we composed original music for the play.

Over and over again, Jennifer and I, along with students like Curtis, as well as colleagues, have collaborated on productions. So many times our ideas came from just seeing plays together in the community or at conferences. Other times they simply sprang from casual conversation or out of a desire to find a special project for a special actor. Here are just a few examples of our working together (in no particular order):

  • A production of Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theatre Project’s Laramie Project with student-led talk back facilitated by the public speaking instructor at the college. In addition, Jennifer had frequent discussions with Susan Burk from the Matthew Shepard Foundation and cast members had a teleconference with Burk to prepare for their roles. I acted in the show and wrote two features about the production for the local newspaper. Follow these links to read the features: 1)  Pre-Production 2)  Production
  • BRCC’s participation in the 48 Hour Film Project, winning Asheville’s contest in 2008. See the film at this link: Serial Love
  • Tennessee Williams’ One-Act Play Festival–we had two separate stages, a southern-style picnic and a lecture on Williams by one of our English faculty
  • Pre-show lecture about Lord Byron and the Shelleys before the production of Howard Brenton’s Bloody Poetry
  • Pre-show lecture, scenes and short film (produced by drama department) before production of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.
  • Pre-show lecture by me and an adjunct English instructor before Shakespeare’s Macbeth (we both acted in the production as well)
  • World premiere of A Carolina Story, a musical based on the Book
    Carolina Story 029

    A Carolina Story, April 2012

    of Job, by me with music by Curtis (We produced it a second time as a fund-raiser for the student emergency grant and loan fund)

There have been so many other examples of how our collaboration has enhanced our teaching. Currently, we are collaborating on perhaps our most ambitious project yet, an original stage adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. We are attempting to preserve the plot and style of the original while adding exciting multi-media effects to enhance the production.

Most theaters cannot sustain this kind of freedom and collaboration between writer and producer/director. It is educational theater, especially in higher education, that allows for this kind of risk-taking to take place. It is also this kind of educational theater that should be supported with proper funding and promotion because in the end, collaboration between faculty, staff, students, administration and community is what it takes for the arts in education to flourish, teaching us to work together for the betterment of all.

And hey, if you’re near Asheville the weekend before Halloween, come see Frankenstein!!

 

 

 

Chicago Follow Up

cloud-gate_c

The Bean–Chicago (chicagotraveler.com)

Finally getting back to my blog after a busy, busy spring break and catching up with my classes. I wanted to take some time to talk about some of the great books, monographs, white papers and other materials I collected while I was in Chicago. Here’s just a few of the things I brought back for my colleagues and me:

  • Understanding Cultural Diversity in a Complex World by Dr. Leo Parvis. I went to Dr. Parvis’s session on cultural diversity and it was quite inspiring. Dr. Parvis shows what dedication and enthusiasm can do. He has built up the cultural diversity at his college–Dunwoody Community College in Minnesota–from practically nothing to its current healthy mix of cultures. His book examines some of his most successful ideas.
  • Toward a New Ecology of Student Success: Expanding and Transforming Learning Opportunities Throughout the Community College by Dr. Jim Rigg. I went to Dr. Rigg’s session mainly out of curiosity since I entered the monograph competition that I had applied for and he won. He sure deserved to! His monograph is a well-researched and persuasive argument for “The Emerging/Transformative Cognitive Frame” (9) approach to student learning that he claims will lead students “toward becoming life long learners” (10). On improving retention, Riggs says, “Numerous studies on improving persistence rates and increasing student success point out the importance of having a rigorous academic curriculum and an engaging and nurturing campus environment” (7). So much of what he says in the books echoes my own views and the views of many of my colleagues. It’s nice to have validation as well as numerous great ideas I hope to share with our president before too long.
  • Bread and Roses: Helping Students Make a Good Living and Live a Good Life by Dr. Terry O’Banion, President Emeritus of the League for Innovation in Community Colleges. This excellent monograph makes the case for what the author calls “Essential Education,” one that combines the best of Liberal Arts education (the rose) with Workforce education (the bread). He says, “We need a practical liberal arts and a liberal career education” (25). One of my favorite quotes in the book comes from Tyton Partners, an educational advisory firm in Boston, “Foundational, lifelong skills, such as critical thinking, teamwork and collaboration, and problem solving are climbing to the top of employers wish lists [….] Ultimately, integration in this area should bridge academic and applied education and skills expectations across institutions” (24). Excellent and informative reading with practical steps for implementing an Essential Education.
  • Numerous white papers, briefs and monographs from the Community College Research Center at Cornell University. A few of the titles are
    • “Using Technology to Reform Advising: Insights from Colleges” I met and talked to the young man who wrote this white paper, Jeffrey Fletcher.
    • Track Transfer: New Measures of Institutional and State Effectiveness in Helping Community College Students Attain Bachelor’s Degrees by Davis Jenkins and John Fink
    • “Improving Assessment and Placement at Your College: A Tool for Institutional Researchers” by Clive R. Belfield
    • “What We Know about Online Course Outcomes” by Shannon Smith Jaggers, et, al.
    • “Increasing Access to College-Level Math: Early Outcomes Using the Virginia Placement Test” by Olga Rodriguez
    • “What We Know About Guided Pathways” by Thomas Bailey, et al.

These are just a few of the materials I gathered on my recent trip to the League for Innovation in Community College’s Conference in Chicago. It was a great conference. I look forward to sharing this material with my colleagues when we all get a breather. Might not be until after grades are turned in.

Chicago–Day Two

shedd

Shedd Aquarium (Chicagofree.com)

John spent the day at Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium while I went to meetings. It was gorgeous and not too cold, so I did get out and walk a little down the River Walk during a break. It was a long day of meetings, but again, it was good, and I gleaned a great deal from most of the sessions I went to and am eager to share what I’ve learned with my colleagues.

Here’s a break down of my day:

8:00-9:00–Library Instruction That Improves Self-Efficacy and Academic Achievement. Two librarians from a large Nevada Community College presented on library instruction. It was interesting and validated many of the things our librarians are doing in and for our classes, but I did get some new ideas that I want to take back and share with our librarians. I also liked that this session included an activity. It was the first session that did.

9:15-10:15–Faculty Voices on Student Success and Completion. Excellent information to take back and share with our Achieving the Dream Team, especially for my supervisor who heads up the team as well as my colleague who is the head of communications. She presented some good materials to use in faculty focus groups to help start meaningful discussion–free resources! And I have copies!

11:30-12:30–Use Technology to Engage Students and Raise the Learning Bar–After a coffee break (I went up to our room and worked on my presentation), I went to the most well-attended session so far. This couple, who are both accounting instructors introduced a myriad of low-cost or free apps that are useful for students and teachers. They had great attitudes about the technology too, repeating several times how technology is only a tool and that content is king. I agreed with their philosophy and learned a great deal. Their session was well-organized, interesting and focused with interesting graphics and short informative videos about the different technology. They have a blog I plan to find and follow.

Ate lunch in the hotel where John and I had breakfast. Excellent buffet that was ironically cheaper than the breakfast buffet had been. Weird.

1:00-2:00–Building Academic Tenacity–Although not really a true round table, this session did offer some validation that what I am doing in my classes meshes with the literature on student persistence and retention. I was a bit disappointed that the speaker took almost all the time going through her powerpoint that we couldn’t see because it was a roundtable session. Towards the end we finally began a discussion, but it was too late to really get into it.

3:15-4:15–Creativity+Innovation+Entrepreneurship=Making Arts Sustainable–This was another useful session and a true roundtable discussion. The presenter was engaging and informative with an obvious passion for the arts combined with a pragmatic attitude towards funding arts programs. Some things that she does at her large, urban school are not likely to happen at our school, but she and others in the group offered great suggestions for sustaining the arts programs and getting buy in from the administration. Can’t wait to share some of this info with my arts faculty colleagues.

4:30-?  –Keynote address–I didn’t stay for the whole thing because it really didn’t relate to me–much more geared to administrators. I was so tired after the long day and there were so many people there, I slipped out and went to the room.

After talking to my mother, who is in the hospital, and being encouraged by her continued improvement, John and I walked over a block to a restaurant we had seen the night before, Howells and Hood. It has New American cuisine and a nice view of the city from its sprawling dining area. It has a large beer menu, which is what attracted John, I think. He was pleased with his porter. His meal, a brisket sandwich and fries, was okay, he said. I’ve spoiled him with my cooking, I said. My fish tacos, on the other hand, were tasty and flavorful, recommended by our attentive server. My Chicago-brewed Pilsner was great as well.

The night was getting quite chilly as we walked back, so I was glad we didn’t have far to go.  We enjoyed just lounging around the rest of the evening. Tomorrow, we’re going to take a well-deserved break, sleep in and then walk to the Art Institute of Chicago to see the Van Gogh exhibit–the first time these particular paintings have been on exhibit in America. I will make it back for a couple of sessions in the afternoon.

That’s the plan anyway.

League for Innovation in the Community College 2016

chicago

Courtesy of sheratongrand.com

I’m in  Chicago for the 2016 League of Innovations Conference. I have already experienced some of the best professional development I’ve ever had after only one day of meetings, which makes for an auspicious beginning.

Yesterday was all about getting here and getting settled in. John and I left Asheville super early on Saturday and got here before noon, so we had plenty of time to explore the city. It wasn’t warm (this isn’t called the Windy City for nothing), but the sun was out, and it was a beautiful day, so we left the hotel, ate at a sandwich shop down the street from the hotel and walked down to the Navy Pier, less than a mile from our home away from home.

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Navy Pier (courtesy of Trippy Media)

According to conciergepreferred.com the Navy Pier was not developed for use by the military but was used as a housing and training facility for the Navy during both world wars. Since 1946 the pier has been used for various purposes, including the undergraduate campus of the University of Chicago, but now is mainly a recreational facility, featuring a major embarking center for city cruises and bus tours, restaurants, biking and walking paths, restaurants, music venues, a children’s museum and, of course, the Ferris wheel. Walking around the pier and down the walkways along the Chicago River was a great way to be introduced to the city.

After making it back to the hotel and getting registered for the conference, an easy process thanks to the efficiency of my college’s educational foundation staff, we relaxed in the room for a while and later enjoyed a great meal at Bongiorno’s Italian Deli and Pizzeria. We were greeted by the proprietor, sat under signed Ernie Banks photos, had excellent service, ate authentic Italian Capricciosa pizza, drank good imported Italian beer and enjoyed a nice chat with the owner, who told us how he played minor league ball in Greensboro years ago and kindly admired my beautiful double-knitted scarf that my daughter Hannah made me for Christmas. Truly a Bella Notte!

Bongiornos-Italian-Deli-Pizzeria

The only thing that marred the evening was that Bongiorno’s is directly across from the Trump Tower–Just can’t get shed of that guy.

Today started early. We had breakfast at the little cafe in the hotel, then John headed out to explore while I started a long day of informative and interesting sessions as the conference began. Here’s a breakdown of the sessions I attended today:

8:30-9:30–Expand Your Horizon of Inclusion: Connect with Local Communities. This session was led by Dr. Leo Parvis, Coordinator of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minnesota. He is the author of  Understanding Cultural Diversity in Today’s Complex World, now in its fifth edition. Dr. Parvis uses this textbook in the course he teaches on cultural diversity, so I bought a copy to take back to the college and share with our Inclusive Education Committee of which I am a member. An excellent presentation by one of the nation’s leaders in inclusive education.

9:45-10:45–Toward a New Ecology of Student Success: Expanding and Transforming Learning Opportunities throughout the Community College, The Cross Papers, Number 19. I have to make a confession. I did research, wrote and submitted a proposal in the 2016 Cross Papers’ competition and did not win, so I attended this session out of curiosity about the man who won this year’s competition more than anything else. I also must confess that I was humbled. Jim Riggs, who wrote this year’s monograph, gave a wonderful presentation, discussing the importance of faculty and support staff working together toward the same goals of student success–that faculty are the center of this effort because of their close contact, but that this “new ecology” must include ALL of the college–that the disconnect between these two parts of the community college must be repaired. I look forward to acquiring a copy of the monograph and bringing it back to the college and sharing it with administration, staff and fellow faculty.

11:00-12:00–How to Successfully Teach Online–Michael Corona, Business Communications Instructor, Excelsior College, NY–I didn’t learn a whole lot of new things at this session, but it was great for my spirit because it validated so much of my own online teaching practices. To hear that such an experienced and obviously successful online instructor employs many of the same strategies as I do in his online classes was inspiring. I also had a chance to network with other instructors, which is one of the main benefits of attending educational conferences.

1:00-2:00–Storytelling with Data: Telling the Tale of ALP–Facilitated by a former English instructor and a graduate student at the University of South Carolina, who, I found out later, taught at Piedmont Community College, this excellent session gave me some great ideas about how to present program data that helps elicit real change. I am looking forward to sharing this information with my supervisor and colleagues. After the session I had a nice discussion about ALP (Accelerated Learning Program) with Dawn Coleman,  the grad student who used to teach in North Carolina.

2:15-3:15–Life During Community College: Your Guide to Success–Terry Arndt, College Transition Publishing. This was another validating session, but I also was introduced to a few very useful tidbits I can take back to the college that is sure to interest many at my college, especially ideas about orientation courses and student retention. Listening to the questions and comments from other educators, I also realized in this session how progressive our college is when it comes to the first-year experience as well as our instruction in library resources.

If you have to work on Sunday, then this was a good way to do it.

Now I’m back in my room, watching the Penguins play the Capitals, the Pens just went up by one, and wondering when John will get hungry enough for some more good Chicago food and drink. I love the Penguins but…..

Want Great Engineers? Invest in Reading and Writing

writing-skills

My frustration levels are again rising to a boiling point. To hear from education professionals that surveys show one of the top three skills desired by local business and industry is good writing and then, in the same meeting, hear nothing about plans to develop these skills is more than discouraging to me as a composition teacher.

How can I  not get disheartened when I hear plans to spend millions of dollars on buildings and technology for engineering, automotive and mechatronics programs when the computers in my classrooms are outdated and sometimes take 30 minutes to boot up, when our tutoring center, which has doubled the number of mainly English and math students it serves within two years, does not appear to be included in anyone’s expansion plans?

What do employees want according to the report I heard this week? They want students who can read and write complex texts, but now a student can get an AA or AS degree without taking a 200-level literature course–the very courses which require students to read, study and write about the most complex texts of all. What a world…

Just for funsies, here’s an article about how important the “soft skill” of writing is to the profession of engineering:

http://www.automationworld.com/automation-team/writing-essential-skill-engineers