April 13, 2011 § 16 Comments
Probably the single best part about the actual instruction involved with teaching is the motivation, the encouragement. I love it. I thrive on it. It happens all too infrequently.
Yesterday was a great teaching day. Class clicked along swimmingly (although discussion was a bit one-sided for my tastes), I had a few opportunities to demonstrate my generous benevolence, and I met with a few students in my office a full gasp! nine days before the paper is due! (That’s not meant to be read as sarcasm…I am truly astonished and thrilled.)
This paper that my students are writing is an experiment. All semester, I have asked them to consider the theme of “Identity” throughout these World Literature II texts. Generally speaking, I believe we’ve done a stand-up job. This final paper condenses a semester’s worth of lectures and thoughts into a single moment, a single exploration of the Self. I have assigned my students the weighty and nigh-on impossible task of crafting their own identities. They will interact with the literature, though, analyzing the authors’ approach to identity-making and mimicking as best they can the approaches that work best for them. I expect some creativity. I want some sparkle. This could be the last paper I read for quite some time (and at least until August–since I won’t teach this summer), so why not go out on an experimental high note? So far, I believe they are enjoying the journey. Many of them are relieved to find out that I’m fairly loosey-goosey on this particular assignment…unlike the first one which was very rules-y. (We must all learn to write in specific landscapes, yes?)
Yesterday’s good teaching day allowed me a moment’s meditation (and only a moment) on the loveliness of helping. And, in light of that, I’d like to write a short open letter to students everywhere.
To all students present and future:
To borrow a line from Jerry Maguire, please help me help you. Give me the chance to demonstrate to you my knowledge. Allow me the opportunity to attempt to motivate you. Ask me questions. Open up. Be honest. Reveal your insecurities, your concerns, your fears. Be receptive to my advice, my recommendations, my suggestions. Take notes while I expound on my answers to your questions. Demonstrate to me that you are actively listening. When I see you take notes, feverishly writing to keep up with my fevered counsel, a fire burns in my heart and I become proud. I become confident. I realize that I have something of value to offer you. Give me that chance because the more often you do so, the better my advice will be.
Let me celebrate with you. Tell me about the times when you broke through your Writer’s Block. Share with me the harrowing tale of your 2 a.m. Dorito’s and Mountain Dew bender at the library and the genius that pored forth from your fingertips to the keyboard. Recount for me the time you showed your classmate a rough draft in an impromptu peer review, and how it helped you. Give me the gift of collegial joy. I’m a writer, too. I can revel in your successes, too. I can live vicariously through your victories, your triumphs, your battles hard-won, too.
Help me help you.
Offer me a moment to teach you, to feel a burst of confidence when you promise to get it, and to experience the utter, bone-deep pride when you actually do.
April 1, 2011 § 10 Comments
I have been vague for my own self-preservation in the past on this blog. And most recently, I made a vague reference to “my plans” and “Robert’s work ethic”. This afternoon, I officially made the announcement to both my department head and our departmental secretary. Here’s the clarification:
I have declined to accept my summer graduate teaching assistantship.
This means that I will not be teaching this summer. This means I will not earn any money this summer. This means I will not receive a tuition “waiver” (which is actually funded through the school from the assistantship).
Why oh why would I decline MONEY???
Because, folks, I have to get finished. And this is my best bet to finish in a timely fashion. I know that if I were to work, I would absolutely not finish the dissertation.
And here’s where Robert’s work ethic comes into play. Because he is teaching an overload this summer semester, he will be making enough for us to be financially secure on just one income. Now, it will be tight. Now, this is not to suggest some absurd level of luxury. Rather, this means that we will be living much like the way we are living now…except that I won’t have to work. I feel like the luckiest PhD candidate in the world!
I had lunch with my directing professor this afternoon, and we agreed that in order to finish in time for August graduation, I would need to have a full, complete dissertation no later than the first of July. So my summer will not be spent sitting around watching television and napping. I will be busier than I have ever been before. But I will also not be teaching. Which means no lesson planning. No grading. No office hours. No endless student e-mails. This class I am teaching right now will be the last class I teach for a while.
Believe me, friends, I am not delusional about the level of work I will have to commit to in order to accomplish my goal. I am fortunate enough to have a practical and realistic director on my team, and she has made it quite clear just how hard I will have to work. I’m going to do it, though. I’m going to work as absolutely hard as I can in order to get this work done.
I’m actually really excited about the prospect of not teaching for a little while. I think the time off will be helpful and illuminating.
Please be advised: this is not an April Fool’s joke. Not like Gmail Motion…which is stinkin’ hysterical, if you ask my opinion.
March 31, 2011 § 18 Comments
Yesterday, I was sad and disappointed. I cried. A lot. I felt unvalidated by my department. Like a total loser. As though through the absence of the fellowship, they were not only giving me the middle finger but also a nice boot to the rear while sneering, “This money is only for serious scholars. You suck, and there’s no way you meet our basic qualifications to fund you.” It took several hours, a couple of long phone calls, some incredible comments from my blogosphere pals (thank you, all!!), lots of hugs, and some pretty addictive Chinese food to finally help me overcome the emotional breakdown.
About halfway through my breakdown, in the midst of one of Robert’s awesome hugs, I remembered the promise I had made myself to surprise and thank my students…when I got the fellowship. Weeks ago, when I had to sacrifice time spent on them (grading, coming up with kick-ass lesson plans) to work on chapters for the fellowship application, I decided that I would thank them with treats. I would bring in cookies and maybe a movie, if I could find one. We would have a celebratory party because together we did it! When it struck me that I would not be able to keep my promise to myself (and secretly to my students), I cried more. I really wanted to have a party with them. I really wanted to thank them for their patience with me this semester.
And that’s when I realized:
I could still choose the party!
“You know what?” I sniffled, reluctantly pulling away from Robert’s hug. “I really don’t have it in me to lesson plan right now. I want to rent Persepolis for class tomorrow, watch the first half, and bring cookies to my students.”
Regardless the outcome, my students were still patient with me and have been rooting for me since I told them I applied for the fellowship. Why shouldn’t they get a little recognition?
So, Robert and I got ourselves some dinner, we went to the store to rent Persepolis (we’re reading volume 1–her childhood story–in class right now), and then we bought two packages of fresh-baked cookies (one was sugar, the other chocolate chip). When I walked into my classroom at 8 a.m., my students practically lifted out of their seats, craning their necks in order to see if I did indeed have a DVD in my hand and…cookies??
I took roll. I put the DVD in the computer and the cookies on the table.
“Well, yesterday I got some bad news.” My students seemed to collectively hold their breath. “Do you remember the funding that I applied for this summer in order to finish my dissertation? Remember how I had to write those chapters instead of grade your papers?” They nodded. “Well, I didn’t get the fellowship.”
All together, in chorus, I heard sighing and whispers of “oh no….”
“It’s okay,” I said cheerily. “I had decided weeks ago that I would thank you guys by bringing in cookies and watching a movie if I got the fellowship. But you know what? We’re going to have the party anyway! Screw ’em! I’m still very grateful that you guys have been patient with me and didn’t give me a hard time about getting your grades to you late. You’ve been awesome, and I want to recognize that. So, even if they don’t think we should be happy, screw ’em! I have a great class. Let’s relax today!”
They dove into the cookies (I borrowed a joke from one of Cosby’s early routines about how cookies [his joke was about chocolate cake] were basically like breakfast…eggs, milk, bread…sugar…), I gave them a quick (and really easy) quiz, and then we settled down to watch Persepolis.
Look, here’s the thing.
Does it suck when you work your ass off for no recognition? Of course.
Does it hurt like hell when you feel so utterly rejected? Yup.
Does it cut to the quick to realize you have to go with Plan B? Yes, indeed.
But does it prevent you from still choosing the party regardless? Nope.
And, with that, this is the last post you’ll get about the fellowship. It’s over. I’m done with it. The committee made their decision; there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m kicking the dust off my heels and walking on.
Anyone wanna join me in the party?
March 28, 2011 Enter your password to view comments.
February 24, 2011 § 5 Comments
I don’t have much time for a blog update, but I couldn’t let my second-favorite day of the semester go by without any notice. So, just because I’m so pressed for time, here’s a quick rundown as to all the marvelous reasons that Midterm Exam Thursday deserves so much praise.
1. It breaks up my semester nicely.
No, seriously, it does. At this point, my students have written a ton of blogs, they’ve taken a few quizzes, they’ve written half of their papers (okay, one of two), and have officially taken half of their exams (okay, also one of two). Throughout all of February, my sights are trained on Midterm Exam Thursday. Just make it, just make it, just make it, I tell myself. Well, it’s here! The rest of the semester will fly by now! (This will either be a wonderful thing or a train wreck. Let’s be optimistic, though, shall we?)
2. I get a whole class period all to myself while the students sweat it out.
Sure it’s stupid boring to sit there and watch people take an exam. But if you come properly equipped either with a fantastic imagination or personal work, the time can fly by beautifully. Do not misapprehend my meaning–I am still very much mentally present in my classroom, looking up every few moments. I didn’t say that I get a lot of work done during the exams, but that never stops me from bringing it along anyway. Today, during the exam, I worked on compiling a master bibliography for the dissertation.
3. Because I stayed late on Tuesday to make my copies, I had no preparations to do before the 8 a.m. exam.
I always do this. I make sure that my exam is written, copied, stapled, and properly collated on my last on-campus day before the exam so that I don’t have to come in early or do any prep work whatsoever beforehand. This habit is particularly useful for 8 a.m. classes because our departmental copy room does not open up until 7:45 a.m., and there’s always a line (or the copier malfunctions on my most important copying days). Today, I strolled in at 7:30 a.m. and finished grading blogs. Easy-peasy.
4. When I stay a little bit later after the exam, I finish my grading immediately.
Know what’s easier to grade than essays? Exams. Because for much of the exam, a student’s answer is either right or wrong. There’s very little room for interpretation or bias when a student says the French Revolution took place in 1879 instead of 1789. Wrong is wrong. Quick, quick, quick. Sure, I have my short answer portion and my short essay portion, but even those can be graded more quickly than a paper because I don’t leave comments on exams. I figure interested students will ask me about it.
5. It’s second to the final exam day, which is my favorite day of the semester for many of the same reasons plus it’s the last day of work.
When we hit midterm, the glorious news is that the semester is halfway over and we’re almost to the final exam, which is my absolute favorite day of the semester. I get two and a half hours to myself to “work,” entirely interrupted, of course, because I’m constantly looking around for cheaters. And I always try to get exam grading completed as early as possible so that I don’t have to bring it home with me; that way, the day of the final exam really is the last day of work! It’s wonderful!
For the rest of the semester, our upcoming texts in order of assignment are:
“The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Wilde
From the Deep Woods to Civilization, Eastman
Song for Night, Abani
I think they’ll enjoy the rest of the semester. And even if they don’t, I know I will because I’ve already read most everything on this list (okay, all but the Schnitzler), and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Although I’m probably the only one celebrating today, Happy Midterm Exam Thursday to you! 🙂
February 21, 2011 Enter your password to view comments.