I know college costs too much–not my fault. Anybody who sees my paycheck can tell you that. I know community college is often seen as pseudo-higher education–I have no control over people’s perceptions. I only know that I will continue to hold my students to a high, but reachable, standard. I know some instructors do not expect college-level work from their students–I’m not one of them. I know some advisors and administrators sincerely feel sorry for those with difficult life situations that often interfere with student success. I understand. I empathize with them as well. However, I can’t allow that to affect my judgement. I cannot, repeat cannot, let any of these considerations interfere with my assessment of students’ performance in my class.
To do so would be unethical.
Consider this: Let’s say I’m teaching a fully online foundational English composition course to a first-semester freshman. The student sends an e-mail the night the first major essay is due and says that they will not be submitting the assignment on time because they were working a double shift and were too worn out and sleepy to turn in their best work, so they are requesting, very politely, an extension.
Some people would say, “Oh, come on, give the kid a break!”
I say the kindest thing to do is, as gently as possible, deny the extension. Why? Because….
I accept late work that carries a significant grade penalty, allowing the student to begin to learn important soft skills while still salvaging their grade.
the student may begin to understand that in the “real” world, people are expected to meet deadlines
the penalty stings enough to begin teaching the student a valuable lesson about time management
the student may learn that making excuses and blaming circumstances are only short-term solutions
the student has a better chance of developing a growth mindset, learning from their mistakes and becoming not only a better student but also a better person.
It is true that denying any student anything nowadays carries with it certain risks. There is always the chance that the student, or the student’s parent, will complain, not to me, an instructor with no tenure and little power, but to one of my many supervisors, saying that I am being unreasonable and that I should not only accept late work for assignments that students have known about for weeks or even months but that I should also award points for punctuality to an essay that was not turned in on time.
But I am willing to assume that risk for the student’s sake. I learned long ago that enabling students only helps make my life and the lives of my bosses easier. It does nothing to truly help the student or to foster the higher education that my college claims to provide.
If I can put aside my oh-so-fragile ego, I can learn a great deal from my students. I am trying to listen more to what they say. One way I am learning from my students is by requiring my first semester freshman English composition students to write a short researched persuasive essay on a topic that is relevant to our college specifically or to one of the communities it serves.
Students can choose from a list of research questions I brainstormed, or they can submit their own questions for approval. Most of the time, the students pick one of my groups of questions. One set that became much more popular during the pandemic has been about online learning:
What is our college doing to help retain online students? Is it enough? Why? or Why not? What are some things that other schools are doing that our college might do to help retain online students? Is our college doing any of these things?
This short summer semester, without any prompting from me, two of my best students chose the same group of questions. After research, including separate personal interviews with the college’s Director of Teaching and Learning, my students argued two different, but similar, theses. Happily, both recognized the students’ role in their own success and offered suggestions for what students could do to help themselves complete online courses with the desired results.
However, one student emphasized the faculty’s role in improving online retention, and the other argued that the administration could take steps to help more students achieve success. I found both viewpoints interesting and insightful.
So, what did I learn?
The two big takeaways–Faculty should interact more with students, and administrators need to lighten instructors loads so that students can do so. Wow! I mean, my students didn’t teach me anything I didn’t know already. I’ve been saying it for years; however, what is new is hearing about the importance of interaction and building a personal relationship from online students themselves, one who has had six semesters of online classes at my institution.
Both students indicated how helpful it is when instructors quickly respond to inquires and return graded material as soon as possible. This is the first time, however, that I have had a student discuss the administration’s responsibility to be sure that faculty do not have an overload.
Their arguments are well-taken.
A case in point was my schedule this summer. I had three classes and a shortened semester of ten weeks instead of sixteen. Since I have been teaching sixteen-week English composition in eight weeks the past couple of years, ten weeks seemed like a summer vacation. With the lighter load, I was not only able to communicate more often and with more detail but also had time to develop my courses and further refine them for our mutual benefit. In addition, I was able to hold more live virtual sessions and record them for the sake of students who could not attend the sessions. Students mentioned how helpful these sessions were.
Both students mentioned the need for proper advisement when students are registering for online classes. Sometimes, they said, students are ill-prepared for the rigor of online classes and may not possess the time-management skills to be successful. I have found that some of my eight-week online students are not even aware that they are taking an accelerated English course and quickly drop out.
One student mentioned in their essay the problem of recruitment taking precedence over retention. This point resonated with me. For example, on more than a few occassions, I have had developmental and other ill-prepared or otherwise weak students placed in my eight-week courses, or even worse, with advising restrictions removed since the pandemic, students are signing themselves up for classes, which can easily lead to misplacement. Most of these students withdraw; the expectations and pace are simply too much.
The hope is that administration will return to advising restrictions, but the lure of classes filled beyond capacity, and the funds that generates, so far seems to be too strong. As long as enrollment numbers are considered above all other considerations, including limiting the number of students in online classes, hiring more instructors, and better preparing them, I, and two of my most talented students, recognize that we will most likely continue to have low retention and success rates in online classes despite the efforts of even the most dedicated and talented faculty.
One of the great joys for any teacher is celebrating the successes of her students. On Saturday, July 9, at Hendersonville Theatre in Hendersonville, NC, I was so happy to attend a reading of my former student’s short play that she wrote while in my creative writing class last spring. It was her last semester, and although she is not planning to study English as she continues her academic career, she told her advisor, my colleague and friend, that she always wanted to be a writer, so my colleague suggested Creative Writing I, a course that I was teaching for the first time as an eight-week course–completely online.
It wasn’t an easy course to teach or to take–fitting in sixteen weeks of material in half the time was going to be a challenge, but my student consistently turned in quality, polished work in all of the genres we studied. About the time we got to the drama unit, I found out that the local community theater was conducting a play reading series to help local playwrights workshop their plays. Then, my student submitted the ten-minute play, “Book Club,” to fulfill the playwriting assignment.
The play was good, very good–it had solid structure, strong characters with distinct voices, humor, and most importantly, something to say about the foibles of our society. Almost on a whim, I suggested that Amber submit the play for the reading series and gave her the information, not really thinking that she would have the time with her busy schedule to submit the play, but a few weeks later, she e-mailed me that her play had been accepted.
So, there I was on that Saturday, in the audience, listening to six fine local actors read my student’s little play and then hearing the audience members–actors, directors, family members, and patrons of the theater offer words of encouragement to the young writer and give suggestions for taking the play further, maybe expanding it. Afterwards, I was able to meet her parents and grandmother who were there in support of her achievement
To make the day even better, my good friend and fellow playwright Pat’s play, “Amanda” was also read. It, too, was a fine play and also featured great actors–A short play about a woman’s whose house cat suddenly and inexplicably miraculously changes form to the great delight and laughter of the audience. Like all good comedies, however, it had its poignant and touching moments as well.
On Wednesday of the next week, Pat and I talked about writing ten-minute plays at the fantastic little watering hole called the Brandy Bar in Hendersonville on historic 7th Avenue for the “In the Company of Writers” series sponsored by the North Carolina Writers’ Network–Henderson County. After sipping on brandy cocktails and listening to some cool, jazzy blues, we read our own little play about writing plays before talking about plays, among other literary things, especially the non-pecuniary value of our art.
It was a great evening in the mid-week after classes to follow a wonderful afternoon on the weekend, spending quality time with writers and immersing myself in one of my great loves–the theater.
I’m behind keeping up with my summer loves, especially reading and writing, because I’m working this summer. It’s not too bad a gig–Monday through Thursday schedule, three classes instead of five or six, ten weeks instead of sixteen with a two-week vacation at the end. I can handle it this summer and the next because I have something to look forward to–permanent summer break.
Yes, retirement begins on August 1, 2023. I’m a little excited. Can you tell?
In the meantime, I make the best of things in my temporary office in the library at our college as we await the final touches being put on the new multi-million dollar building that replaces two of the oldest buildings on campus. One of those buildings was my work home for 26 years, so as the building is being torn down, I admit I have become nostalgic. Who wouldn’t?
However, I am not too sorry to see it go. It served us all well over the years, but it was built during a different time and doesn’t meet the needs of a 21st-century student body or its faculty. My students being able to access the WI-FI from my office will be a nice change. I hear the adjustable stand-up desks are really rad as well. Do people still say “rad”?
So, I watch the goings-on across the lake, answer numerous messages and emails, occasionally chat with colleagues, teach one small seated class, and grade, grade, grade the assignments and essays of my mere 43 composition and developmental students. During regular semesters, English faculty usually teach six classes and have 100 or more students. To earn an overload, an instructor must have over 110 students or more than six courses, so this “leisurely” pace helps a little.
Despite the tedious nature of grading essays, I know from long experience that working directly with student writing through grading and conferencing and therefore establishing a relationship with students as individuals is the most important work I do as a composition teacher. I do not think there is any substitute for it.
Hence the dilemma.
The demand for English instructors to deliver online instruction is higher than ever, but course loads that already did not consider how much time an English professor needs to deliver meaningful writing instruction online have not been altered to reflect the nature of effective andragogy in the English classroom and how it has been affected by the increasing number of online students.
In addition, the number of students desiring accelerated online English instruction has increased. If you take the already heavy grading load of a 16-week semester and cut it in half, something’s got to give. Often times that is the student, who may or may not have been advised that the course must cover 16 weeks of material in 8 weeks’ time.
Currently, I am the only instructor at my institution who is crazy enough to attempt teaching eight-week online freshman composition classes. I must say, now that I have taught them for several semesters, the accelerated classes work extremely well for a certain type of student, especially those who are working towards degrees to gain a promotion at work. Highly motivated students like those in our pre-nursing, emergency medical services, and law-enforcement programs also tend to do well.
Students who are not good candidates for online learning, are not prepared for the workload, are not willing to make changes to their schedules to make room for the extra time they will need to spend, or those who do not manage their time well, along with those who are weak students or writers in general, simply should not take the accelerated course.
But they do.
So what is an English teacher who cares about learning for ALL students, whether they should be there or not, supposed to do? Furthermore, what does an instructor do if she wants to infuse her own personality into her course and resists the impersonal “canned” classes that so often do not fit her institution’s student body and do not help build the vital personal relationships that are required for good teaching of any kind?
Find a way.
With all that extra time (guffaw) I have this summer, I am continuing to make changes in hopes that the Mad English Person who, after my retirement, steps into the perilous land of acceleration will have an easier time of it. Here are a few things I have done and am doing to help that poor soul:
Adding lessons–In my learning management system (LMS), I can create multi-media lessons that help guide the students through the essential material. My own simple questions can be embedded throughout each lesson that is automatically graded by the computer, allowing an easy low-stakes grade for the student and zero work for me. Of course, I must take considerable time to build the lessons, but remember, I have all that extra time this summer.
Early in the course, assigning paragraphs instead of full-length essays–Having students write paragraphs of seven to ten sentences instead of full essays has been a game-changer. I can still teach multiple rhetorical modes as required by the state, including illustration, process analysis, classification, and definition, but now I have more time to focus on the basic elements of any good writing–thesis, support, conclusion, organization, transitions, sentence structure, diction, grammar, and mechanics. In addition, I can grade closely without overwhelming the students. My constructive criticism seems easier for them to digest. Best of all–it’s doable for even the weakest of my students.
Fewer and shorter essays–Beyond a doubt, less is more. In an accelerated class, I must limit what students write for both our sakes, but I have found that the writing is stronger because I have more preliminary work leading up to the final draft that is low stakes for them and little work for me. Win. Win.
Require rough drafts but give little direct feedback. If one of the learning objectives is for students to revise and edit more effectively, why in the world am I going to revise and edit for them? How does that help anybody learn? I am handicapping students if I give too much feedback on a rough draft. I require them because they help students with time management, and I have an earlier draft to judge students’ revising and editing skills. Because I give mainly completion grades for drafts (and make sure students are aware of this), there is little work for me.
Line editing less–In the “old” days, I felt like I owed it to students to mark every single error I could find. No more. I save time, energy, and my sanity, by line editing the first paragraph of an essay, and then marking and making comments occasionally after that. I used to spend 45 minutes to an hour grading one researched essay, but now I can effectively grade one in half that time.
Make use of the LMS advanced grading system–I am not a fan of Turnitin (subject for another day), and I’m too close to retirement to want to pursue a change in our relationship, but I do make use of the LMS’s built-in advanced grading system. I can easily build new rubrics and checklists. I also have access to a “quicklist” when I am marking an essay. I choose from a long, long drop-down menu of common comments. Over the years, I have added links to webpages that give students more information or offer exercises to help them with various writing issues. It has really helped me save time.
Adding more required online sessions and conferences–I am able to record the sessions, so even though few students can attend live, one or two usually do, and the other students are required to view the sessions. Logs on the computer allow me to verify if the student downloaded and viewed the recording. The conferences are even better because I can speak in person to each student, which helps to form those all-important relationships between us through discussing the student’s writing and listening to their concerns.
I may be old and worn out, and some people can’t seem to wait to put me out to pasture, but I’ve been at this work a long time, and I am not afraid to say it–I’m damn good at it. I know what works, and letting some AI, no matter how sophisticated, do the instruction, may lead to better data in the short term, but it won’t lead to better writing–only holding students to a standard, then compassionately working directly with them and their writing can achieve that.
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.
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.