Teach. Write. Again.

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I have a dream. To publish a literary e-zine that celebrates the writing of composition teachers.

The one thing that has helped me most to become an effective composition teacher, besides twenty-seven years of teaching English composition of course, is writing and pursuing publication of my work. Such a process has certainly kept me humble (I quit counting when my rejections reached over two hundred.) and has never made me rich. However, a couple of years, I did make enough to be taxed. (Of course, that isn’t saying much, is it?)

On the other hand, with over two dozen short stories published in print and online publications, as well as over a hundred theater reviews and features for the local paper, five years as columnist for my college, two or three years as an arts columnist, and now approaching the production of my second full-length play, my writing avocation has also boosted my confidence as a writing  instructor and given me a certain credibility with my students, some of my students.

Above all, being a writer keeps me mindful of what it’s like to write for a critical audience–a critique group member, an editor, an agent, an audience.

3990049531_e1c94fdd9e_bBecause I’m a writer, I am reminded of what it’s like

  • to procrastinate.
  • to spend more time revising and editing than composing
  • to be uninterested, or lose interest, in a project
  • to be obligated to complete said project
  • to have a work criticized or rejected
  • to take that criticism or rejection as a personal attack
  • to be misunderstood

But it’s not all bad. Because I am a writer, I can truthfully inform my students that good writing, while hard, and often thankless, work is

  • a valuable skill
  • a confidence builder
  • actually can be fun
  • and sometimes, every now and then, absolutely glorious!

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So, the dream is to have this little online publication called Teach. Write. that will allow present and former composition teachers of all types to try their hands at writing out of their comfort zone, to make themselves vulnerable again to constructive criticism and rejection, to boost their confidence and support their colleagues–to write, and in so doing, become better teachers, better people.

The e-zine will be for writing teachers by writing teachers, specifically, but because the style and subject of essays, poetry and short stories will be open for the most part, the magazine should appeal to a general audience.

Although I will consider pieces that are on the subject of writing if they are unusual and compelling, I’m not particularly looking for work that is about writing or being a writing teacher. As I mentioned, this magazine is calling for teachers to move out of their comfort zones, so I would rather they write a literary short story or a flash piece, a sonnet or poem in blank verse, an essay about a night spent in jail–whatever they want to say. These will be the general submissions.

Because I want this e-zine to be useful to writing teachers, I also will have a regular feature called “Writing Your Own.” In this feature I will call for composition teachers to write pieces based on their own writing prompts. For example, the fantasy e-zine, Mirror Dance, published a flash piece called “Waiting for Beowulf” that I had written as an example for a creative writing assignment in my British literature I online class.  It is so helpful for instructors to write with their students–it can also be simply fun, yielding strong writing from students and publishable work from teachers.

I have set December 1 as the deadline for setting up the website. At that time, I will begin accepting essays and short fiction of 2,500 words or less, poetry of 100 lines or less (up to three poems accepted in one document), ten-minute stage and screenplays (ten pages), and pieces for the “Writing Your Own” feature (250-2,500 words).

All teacher-writers should include a short (100 words or less) biographical statement, which includes their present or past position as an English composition teacher. This statement is more important to me than publication credits. Of course, elementary and middle school language arts teachers, high school and college-level English teachers can submit, but if they have taught independently for business and industry or as part of a continuing education program, they are also eligible. If they have tutored in English composition professionally or as a volunteer, they may feel free to submit. They should simply mention composition teaching experience in the bio..

From  December 1 to June 30, I will accept submissions for the inaugural edition, which I hope to publish in the fall. My desire is to begin publishing twice a year, fall and spring, hoping that contributers who are working teachers can write and submit in the summer and winter, then enjoy, along with their students, their published work in the fall and spring.

I believe it is important to pay writers, but I don’t have much money, so I will be offering only a small honorarium here at the beginning of my venture, hoping that in the future I can offer more. I will let writers know the amount in December.

If anyone is interested in submitting  work to Teach. Write., start writing and look for an announcement on Hey, Mrs. Winkler with a link to Teach. Write. 

I have had this dream for a long time, but as it is has been with most of my dreams, they only happen when I find the time to do them and set to work.  The time is now.

 

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Making Sense

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gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com

I’m very excited to be working on a stage adaptation of Frankenstein that is as faithful to Mary Shelley’s novel as I can get it. It is a tremendous amount of work, but is a joy. I don’t think I’ve ever said anything like that before except when I was writing “A Carolina Story.”

Anyway, working hard on the play has kept me from posting on my blog, so when I read a great editorial about the failures of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s educational reform efforts, I had to post. Many state governments have drastically changed polices and programs, poured resources, especially administrative and faculty resources, into initiatives promoted, and only partially paid for, by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Now that many of these initiatives are failing, the foundation is beginning to pull out, often leaving the educational systems to fix the mess. Many educators, like me and some of my colleagues, have tried to warn administrators about the potential problems with these plans, but to no avail. Why listen to the people who are in the classroom day after day and work most closely with students? What do they know about education?  Let’s allow people who know little about education but have lots and lots of money and political power dictate to dedicated educators with years and years of experience how best to spend money on reforms. Yeah, that makes sense.

Of course it doesn’t, but this article, printed from the Jacksonville Daily News does:

Quick Fixes for Education Are Scarce

Chicago Follow Up

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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.

Again, No Time But Must Post Something

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Mock Propaganda Poster Inspired by Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (Pinterest)

I’m in the midst of grading my brains out here at the end of the semester, but I don’t want to let any more time go by without posting something because the current state of liberal arts education, especially at the community college level in my state, demands it. Thank goodness there are others who feel the way I do. So until I’m able to do some more research, I’m posting this great article by Gary Saul Morson, professor of Slavic Languages and Literature at Northwestern University.

As a literature instructor I was a bit taken aback at first, and a little insulted, but then I read on, and he has some great things about the importance of college level literature studies as well as sensible ways to engage students in literature classes.

Article by Gary Saul Morson from Commentary Magazine

Some Weeks Are Good

I know I whine, but not always. Sometimes things work out. Some weeks are good. Last week was one of those. Classes went well. Real collegiality and collaboration took place. Respect was the watch word. Yes, it was a good week. In celebration, I’m printing the lyrics (rough draft) to one of my favorite songs in my new musical CAMPUS. This song is sung by the three “fairy godteachers.” Enjoy!

The Liberal Arts

Mrs. H (singing)
When I lived in Chicago.

Mrs. Mc and Mr. T.
You lived in Chicago?

Mrs. H
Back when I was a girl.
One thing I used to do

Mrs. Mc and Mr. T
What was it?

Mrs. H
I used to read.

Mr. T
Who would have guessed?

Mrs. H
I mean only read.
You’d think the teachers would agree
That reading was a great activity
But they would roll their eyes and give that look
When they called on me and my nose was in a book.
I read
The Three Musketeers in history.
I think Jane Eyre in PE
In Science it was Pride and Prejudice
Lord of the Rings I read in Math
I even got in trouble for reading
In English class.

Ms. M
Why was that?

Mrs. H.
I’m not sure of the cause
But I think it was
Because I was reading Judy Blume
Instead of Sylvia Plath

Mr. T
But what does this have to do
With signing up kids for class?
How do we make them move
Get up off their tiny…

Mrs. H
I’ll tell you.
And then there came a day
That wonderful, glorious day.

Mr. T
Here we go.

Mrs. H
When I knew
Without doubt
What learning was all about…
It was fifth grade and I was all alone
I had no friends to call my own.
Just only had my books
To keep me company
To keep away the looks
They gave to me.

Then we went to the art museum
The Chicago art museum
And walking down the staircase
I looked up and saw it fill the wall
A painting all in black

Ms. M and Mr. T
All in Black?

Mrs. H
Mainly black.
With a thin line of white running down the middle
And an orange line running down the side.
That was all

Then I walked down that massive stairway
Step by step
Moving closer
Moving nearer
To the truth.

Mr. T.
What truth?

Mrs. H.
There was something
In all the blackness
You couldn’t see it from afar
There was meaning
In the darkness
Shapes and form
And art

Ms. Mc
I love this little story
But I’m not sure what it means

Mr. T
That makes two of us
I just don’t see
What you’re trying to say.

Mrs. H
I’m trying to say
That after that day
I knew what school was all about
Giving me knowledge for my work
But teaching me so much more
Teaching me how to live and
What to live for.
Because you only know what truth is
When you get close enough to see
I learned that’s what the liberal arts
Could give to me.

The Liberal Arts
The Liberal Arts
Because you only know what truth is
When you get close enough to see.

Ms. Mc
Now I know what you mean
I’ve felt it too
I only cared about computing
When I was in school
And Chemistry was okay too
The calculations were somewhat challenging.

Then I went to a symphony with my class
Drug to hear a full orchestra on the lawn
Of an old mansion in downtown Tulsa.

Mr. T
Tulsa?

Ms. Mc
Downtown Tulsa on the lawn
With my 10th grade class
When I was just fifteen
I sat through some baroque
Didn’t really have a choice
And some other too straight forward
I can’t remember what it was
Then came The Moldau

Mr. T.
The what?

Mrs. H.
Bedrich Smetana’s The Moldau

Mr. T
Right.

Ms. Mc
I’d never heard anything like it before
It was a river
A river flowing through the music
Through my mind
Starting as a stream
Running through the strings
And I heard the poem
The musical poem
With structure and form

So I’m trying to say
That after that day
I knew that school was all about
Giving me knowledge for day to day
But teaching me so much more
Teaching me how to live and
What to live for.

Because you only know what truth is
When you sit still enough to hear
I learned that’s what the liberal arts
Could make so clear.

ALL
The Liberal Arts
The Liberal Arts
Because you only know what truth is
When you sit still enough to hear.

Mr. T
Well, you two can really get on my nerves
I just don’t like people it’s true,
But you’re really all right you two.
I see what you’re trying to say.
Because it happened to me one day.

Mrs H and Ms Mc.
It did?

Mr. T.
It did.
Actually it was one night.

Mrs. H.
Oh, no, not one night.

Mr. T
Well, yes there was a girl
A beautiful girl
With brown eyes and brown hair
Who wore lots of leather
If I remember right
In my acting class.
But she was different than the others
Didn’t want to be a star
She studied and studied
Wanted to be a doctor
But I didn’t care
I just wanted to get with her
Backstage.

Mr. H.
Oh, please.

Mr. T
Well, anyway,
She wanted to go on this field trip
I didn’t really want to go
To the planetarium in Pittsburgh.

Mrs. H.
I didn’t know you lived in Pittsburgh

Mr. T
There’s a lot you don’t know.

So I signed up for the field trip
Flirted with her on the bus.
But she wouldn’t sit next to me
In a darkened room with us
Boys. I guess she was right.
Not to sit next to us boys that night.

So I was bored out of my skull
As the show began to start.
Just about to go to sleep
Until it happened.

Mrs. H and Ms Mc
What happened?

Mr. T.
Out came the stars
In the center of the winter night
They said I could see a hunter.
A hunter I didn’t see
They said two stars mark his shoulders
And two stars mark his knees
Then they outlined his form
Standing with his arms upraised,
A hunter standing strong
I saw Orion.
I saw the Orion Nebula

I’m trying to say
That after that day
I knew what school was all about
Giving me knowledge for my work
But teaching me so much more
Teaching me how to live and
What to live for.

Because you only know what truth is
When someone points you to the light
I learned what liberal arts can do
That fine winter’s night.

ALL
The Liberal Arts
The Liberal Arts
Because you only know what truth is
When someone points you to the light

Mr. T
That’s the day I wanted to teach drama

Ms. Mc
That’s the day I wanted to teach math

Mrs. H
That’s the day I knew I could teach English

All
The day we finally understood
And knew we could

Teach the liberal arts

Who Are You?

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“Who Are You?” –These are the words of a text message I received recently in response to a work-related request. I responded back, “Katie Winkler.” No message came back. It was a little thing and was not meant to offend. It’s not important in the grand scheme of things, but it is symbolic of the way I feel sometimes as an instructor at a community college.

Who are you to ask questions about the college’s policies and procedures developed by those with little or no educational background?

Who are you to request materials to support the recruitment of students at a college with declining enrollment?

Who are you to question the expenditure of nearly a quarter of a million dollars on an initiative that many studies show leads to little improvement in retention and completion rates?

Who are you, Katie Winkler?

I am an instructor who comes in early and stays late, even though I am not required to. I am an instructor who works on the weekends grading papers and writing instructional material for my online class because I’ve been interrupted throughout the week by non-instructional tasks, reports, and meetings when I wasn’t teaching and preparing for my seated classes. I am an instructor who tries to answer student e-mails within a few hours of receiving them, even on the weekend.  I am an instructor who works throughout the summer on my classes, even though I am not being paid because I want my students to have the best possible experience while keeping an insane grading load manageable. I am an instructor who cares.

Who are you, Katie Winkler?

Even though you have worked at an institution for over 20 years, people still ask you how many of those years were full-time as if your adjunct years were of no value. You are asked to take minutes as soon as you walk through the door for your first meeting on a new committee when the room is already full of other people. Your integrity is questioned concerning your instruction, your travel, your compensation and your intentions. You are accused of being uncooperative in open meetings by people who rarely communicate with you except to criticize you. You are frequently chastised by members of support staff for mistakes you make in filling out forms that have little to do with actual instruction, even though the procedures for filling out said forms are unclear. You are asked to make your own appointments when you have questions of support staff. You are often interrupted on a whim, without regard to students who might need your assistance. You are an instructor who is forced to send maintenance request to get toilet paper and hand soap in a bathroom frequented by students but no one else. You are a little person with little power who is considered to be of little worth and quite a thorn in the side of many because you demand to be heard on behalf of yourself, your colleagues and your students.

But who are you, really, Katie Winkler?

You are respected by your immediate supervisor, your close colleagues and your students. You are a gifted instructor in class and online who regularly holds 75% to 80% retention rates in online classes. You have made a positive difference in the lives of your colleagues and students. You are a good collaborator who is willing to learn and adapt to new methods and technologies for the sake of your students.

You are dedicated, determined, knowledgeable, well-read, kind, long-suffering, stubborn, assertive, whiny, strong-willed, caring, cooperative, impulsive, decisive, intelligent, self-effacing, witty, maternal, greatly flawed but self-assessing and driven to improve.

Who are you, Katie Winkler?

You are wife, mother, writer, actor, preacher, counselor, nurse, adviser, editor, chef, reviewer, director, mentor and friend.

You are a good teacher.

Sometimes I just have to remind myself.

Throw Back Sunday

My Work Home

My Work Home

I used to write a BRCC column a couple of times a month for the Hendersonville Times-News. Here’s one of those columns, from back in 2003:

A series of events the past few weeks has caused an identity crisis in me, forcing me to ask that question teachers often find themselves asking. “What exactly do we have to offer—what is our role?

Should we be entertainers? After all, it is difficult to keep students engaged, especially when many have grown up passively viewing a television screen or matching wits with an exciting computer-generated opponent. Sometimes we try to “jazz things up,” yet no matter how witty our illustrations or detailed our demonstrations, despite our high tech visual aids, we teachers can’t match the special effects of Star Wars or Lord of the Rings.

Of course, teachers should make attempts to prompt student responses through group discussion and student comments, but in the end it is the teacher who has the responsibility to bring student discussions to the sticking point, to summarize key points of any discussion. I know it’s become a dirty word in some circles, but sometimes we even need to lecture.  For many students, that’s not entertainment.

If it is not a teacher’s role to be an entertainer or merely a facilitator, is it to be an encourager? Everyone needs praise.  Good teachers know this and try to find real reasons for praise. One word of encouragement from an admired and respected instructor can fuel some students for an entire semester. Sometimes praise can even change a student’s life; however, constructive criticism has also been known to be the making of a person.

Teachers sometimes see themselves as physicians, highly trained professionals who diagnose problems and offer cures.  But others sometimes see us as nothing more than dispensers of grades—recorders. I do the work; you write my A in the grade book and raise my self-esteem.

Are we here to make students feel better about themselves?  Are we counselors? As a writing teacher, I sometimes find it difficult to even constructively criticize a student’s work if I’m aware of his or her difficult circumstances. I ask myself, what if he or she takes my criticism personally. Could my words so sting that the student becomes so angry or discouraged that he or she drops my class or quits school?

In the end, good teachers know avoiding the errors in student performance, no matter what the students’ difficulties, can only block their ability to learn. Our job is to assess students and inform them of their problem areas, not to assure them, “Everything is okay.”

At the beginning of the semester in my freshman composition classes, I relate to students my educational philosophy by describing a scene from the movie All That Jazz, based on the life of Bob Fosse, the late choreographer and Broadway director of Chicago.  The Fosse-like character becomes frustrated with a beautiful young dancer who gets her job more for her sexual appeal than her dancing ability. When the young woman breaks down in tears, the choreographer stops the music and goes to the girl, saying something like this: “I can’t promise you I’ll make you a great dancer.  I can’t even promise I can make you a good dancer. But if you work real hard and listen to what I say, I’ll make you a better dancer.”

Like the choreographer, we can’t make many promises. We can’t say for sure that our students will be stimulated or get A’s or even pass. But we can make the promise that if they will listen, even if the delivery is not of their liking, even if the grade is not what they expect, they will learn.

Reminded then of our promise, our role becomes clear. I know what it is we have to give. It’s not entertainment, not unreserved praise; it’s not a shoulder to cry on. The only thing we can offer our students is what we know—about our disciplines, about learning, about life.

The rest is up to them.