Grace

I've had a difficult time with my job lately.

The work is challenging, but it always has been.  That's one of the things I like about teaching college students about writing.

I've been angsty, uncertain if this career choice was a mis-step.

I've been feeling disrespected.  Many people who aren't teachers or don't live with teachers see the winter break and the summer months off, and think I have it easy.  I've been told this, so I know there are people who think it.  

Some people in my life have said that I work part time, despite teaching a 4-4 load, serving on two committees, and doing things like spending over 30 hours (last week) on grading.  

I've been frustrated by students who don't read carefully, who don't follow instructions, and then behave badly when asked to resubmit work according to instructions.

As with most jobs, there are hundreds of ways to be discouraged.  I'm not Mark Thackery or Erin Gruwell, yet there's a pervasive attitude that I should want to be them.  I don't want to be them. I am a woman who loves the English language. I am a woman who is passionate for words, who has developed some skill at helping others name and control what they can do with words.

I get a reset button every semester.  New faces.  New chances to improve my teaching.  

Yet, I've been angsty and uncertain.

Today, though, a young man came to see me during my office hours.  His story of what he has been through as he's tried to bounce back from a bad semester, from bad decisions, from a horrible personal situation humbled me.  

Then a young woman stopped in to thank me for offering her an extension on a project.  She was upset, tears in her eyes during class earlier in the week.  I asked to speak with her after class and told her that she didn't have to explain what was going on, but she should feel free to ask for an extension if she needed it.  I don't think she knew she could do something like that. Today when she met with me, she looked me in the eyes for the first time.  She had a conversation with me. Her gratitude humbled me.

I remembered the most important thing I should bring to my work.

Compassion.

I don't want to be the cranky professor who mutters "kids these days," and that is the direction I've been heading.  The students who make me feel that way deserve grace, and I need to behave with grace towards them if I'm going to do my job and find the joy of it again.

What has reminded you to strive to work from a place of grace lately?

 

Friendship

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 I had the pleasure of teaching an exchange student from Beijing last semester.  Lun is a sweet, bright young woman who worked hard.  

She stopped by my office during finals week to drop off her final report for our business writing class.  We chatted a few minutes, then she zipped open her pink back pack and pulled out this lovely Chinese knot and handed it to me.  What a lovely gift!  When I asked her to explain its meaning, she pulled on the edges of the upper knot.  

"It can't be pulled apart," she said.  "We give these to family and friends to show that we can not be pulled apart, either."

I hugged her and told her I would keep it in my work office and would think of her whenever I look at it.  I often tell my students that they have become little pieces of my heart, and it is sweet to know that I have become a little piece of Lun's heart as well.

Crummy Little Orange Calculator



The first batch of grading is still underway.  I sometimes leave the house to grade, settling in at a coffeeshop, where the distractions don't really involve me.  No dogs to let out, no floors to clean, no husbands to chat with.  Just (sometimes good, sometimes bad) music and (sometimes good, sometimes bad) papers, a warm drink, and my optimism.

When I began teaching in 2000, I had a really difficult time figuring out how to determine grades.  Now I use a 1,000 point scale, and all work has a maximum point value towards that perfect 1,000.  I'm a writer, people, not a mathlete!  My boss at the time gave me the tiny calculator pictured.  I have a cheat sheet on the back that lets me know how many points out of, say, 15, make a "B".  I've been using this calculator for almost ten years.

I came home from the coffeeshop on Monday and tore my tote bag and purse apart looking for it.  I was nearly brought to tears over its loss.  I called the coffeeshop, and what do you know?  Two hours after I left there, it was waiting for me on a table.  I had to laugh.  Here I was, acting like I'd left my laptop or iPhone behind.  I couldn't believe someone hadn't seen it and snagged it for themselves! This crummy calculator is just a little swag giveaway my old boss got years ago.  But it is orange.  It fits perfectly in my hand.  It has the cheat sheet.  It's the tool I've used to grade almost everything I've graded since that first class. 

I'm just a sentimental goofball, I guess. Do you have something like the little orange calculator?  Pretty worthless, but devastating if you lost it?  Tell me about it, will you?

That Time of Year


Today is the lull before the final grading storm. I taught my last class of the semester today. A few students were with me for both semesters of their freshman year, and it was a little more bittersweet to say goodbye to them then some of the others.

I hope I reached the bright procrastinator when I encouraged him to figure out a method to break out of the vicious cycle he's been in all semester. Typical, really. Smart kid, never had to work hard, always managed to do well enough to satisfy himself, his teachers, his parents. College, though? Not so easy.

I'm pretty certain I did not reach the plagiarist, with whom I had to meet (per his request) with the department chair. He seemed confused by the fact that he asked for the meeting, and so he was responsible for saying what he wanted to get from it. I think he wanted to apologize in hopes I wouldn't fail him, but in this case, apologies don't matter. Our conversation made it clear that he believes his only mistake was in not putting quotation marks around the two pages lifted directly from websites, or maybe in not putting a parenthetical at the end. I'm happy to file this case away.

Overall, though, it was a delightful semester. I enjoyed my themed class, and many of the students in the class reported that they felt the same way. It just goes to show that one of the keys to good writing is that the writer is interested in the subject. I know that can't always be the case, but I encourage my young writers to figure out what interests them and see how they can weave it into any subject. I remember writing a paper about the geometry of quilting for my math class in college. One of the few math assignments I enjoyed!

So, here I am, another semester under my belt. Nine years of teaching already. It's hard to believe I've been at it that long. I'll be busy grading this week, maybe even over the weekend, but after that, I become my own boss for the summer.

What's in store? I'm eager to get back to my novel and have signed up for a writing conference in August to provide a deadline for this draft. I'm also joining Dave in seeing just how much of my fiber stash I can spin this summer, and I plan to get comfortable with the big ol' loom that takes up about half my office.

There's another project, too, but I'm not quite ready to talk about it publicly. I haven't been so excited about something in ages, and I'm easily excitable! As soon as I can, though, I'll let you know first!

What are you excited about as summer approaches?

The Office

Img_1450It’s more of a cube, but it’s mine.  The college where I’ve been an adjunct for the past two years has hired me on a full-time two-year contract.  I was happy with my interview in July but didn’t want to jinx anything with too much optimism.  I got the call in early August and signed my contract last week…and picked up the keys to my little bit of real estate on campus.

Classes started this week, and it’s so much more satisfying to say that I’m an Assistant Professor rather than a Visiting Lecturer. 

I’m determined to make my office a comfortable space.  K-Dubs helped me out with that lovely fern chair, and I’m using my first weaving on my desk as a little decoration.  Today I picked up an electric kettle for tea once the weather turns.  I’ve added some more homey touches since I took these pictures.  I’m so grateful to have a permanent (well, until August 2010) space. 

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My computer desk and file cabinet, along with my very own door.  This is where the pop quizzes will get written when the little darlings stop reading in October.

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The student chair and my bookshelf.  Notice tissues are located at an easy access point in case there are any tears this semester.

Thanks for visiting my office!  Want to show me yours?  Leave a comment with a link if you do!!

Instrument of Friendship

I prefer spring semester to fall.  There’s the movement from cold to warm, from dormancy to life.  And there are repeat students, those from the fall semester who felt safe with me or liked me, or maybe (ha!) thought I was easy, or at least the known devil.  Repeat students make my classroom more fun for me.  I know what I’ve taught them, and usually they know what I expect from them right from day one.  There’s no farce of "oh, my professor last semester didn’t teach us anything about MLA" or such madness.

This spring, I’ve had a lot of repeat students, and it was a joy for me to teach them again.  Two in particular stand out.  A. and L. sat next to each other during the fall semester, but didn’t know each other.  I paired them up for group work, and they hit it off.  When the class wrote personal narratives at the end of the fall semester, I gave students writing about deeply personal or sensitive subjects an opt out of the mandatory peer review.  L. wanted to take it, but then said, "If just A. reads my essay, I’m fine with that."  I was pleased that she’d found someone she trusted in class.

Fast forward to spring.  The girls sat next to each other again.  About mid-way through the semester we had a storytelling exercise.  L. told the story of how she passed a note to A. one day when she looked upset.  A.’s parents are going through a messy divorce, and as brave a face as A. puts on, she’s clearly hurting.  Anyway, L. invited A. to have coffee with her in the lounge.  She told us that they started to talk about the role of God in their lives only to discover that they’d grown up going to the same Bible camp! 

Today was our last class. L. had a presentation in which she talked about an experience that changed her life.   She got choked up while speaking, but held herself together and finished.  As I checked writer’s notebooks, I could see A. had wrapped her arm around L.’s shoulder, comforting her.  They lingered until the classroom was empty.  Tears coursed down both of their cheeks, and I had to bite my mouth not to cry, too.  I hugged them each goodbye, told them what a pleasure it was to be their teacher, and invited them to visit my office next semester.  They looked like they needed to say something, but didn’t know the words.

I know them, though, because I’ve felt the same way.  When I left New Mexico, I cried like a baby to leave my Dana girl out there.  A. and L. have a developed a deep, profound friendship, one that I hope will last until they’re old ladies.  My desire for them is a wee bit selfish; when they’re in their 90’s cruising the Greek Isles together, I want them to reminisce about how they met in my class.  They might not remember much that I taught them, but they’ll always remember that their freshmen Comp. class was the instrument of their friendship.  There’s not much more I can ask for as a teacher; they can look up where a comma goes in a sentence.  This bond between them, though?  Priceless.

Ahhhh…

I just submitted the last of my grades.  I’m done with my contract for the semester.  What a relief! 

I’ve been busy with Christmas knitting, but no pictures just yet.  I know I won’t see some recipients until after the holiday, so I’m not going to pressure myself to finish everything before Tuesday. 

I have some last bits of shopping to do this afternoon, and I’ll spend tomorrow wrapping gifts with holiday tunes blaring.  Maybe I’ll even get some baking done!

I hope your holiday is shaping up just the way you want it to!

A Record and Other Fascinating Bits About My Life

I graded–are you sitting down?  I graded 80 papers today.  I did not write comments the way I do when students are actually getting the papers back, but I read and evaluated 80 papers, people.  On average they were 4-5 pages long.  That’s a damn lot of pages that are not, incidentally, written by, say, Joyce Carol Oates, or Jane Austen, or J.K. Rowling.  You get my drift. 

I finished the Wound Too Tight Socks for Maggie.

My friend Jennifer Schaller is going to be on This American Life this weekend.  She writes about intense stuff with the funniest voice.  Make sure you listen; you can always catch her via the podcast.

I plan to use my persuasive powers to get Neal to help me with fiber-related Christmas gift projects for four little girls in my life.  The mother of two of the little girls reads here, and I want her to be surprised, too, so that’s all I’m saying for now.

I’m going to see A Christmas Carol tomorrow evening.  While I went to see a few plays in grammar and middle school, the Hartford Stage is where my real love for live theater was born.  In high school I was part of a group that bought subscriptions each year.  I love the immediacy of theater, and I’m thrilled after all these years to go back to the place where that love began.  It’s no Globe or BAM!, but I’ll take what I can get!

I am a Yankees Fan and a Damn Good Teacher

At least, I’m a teacher who understands that teaching a whole lot of young men and women from the Boston area requires that I acknowledge that their Red Sox are going to be top priority.  After getting home from work today, I did some Treadmilling, then I prepped for my SAT class, then I revamped my current Sequence Schedule for my comp classes. 

See, I heart the Yankees.  I may have been raised in New England, but I’m a New Yorker at heart, and I cannot in good conscience root for any team other than the Yankees.   I also understand the pull the Red Sox have on their fans’ hearts.

I promised my students–whose eyes brightened when they saw "Red Sox" on the day’s Agenda–that I would minimize their homework during the World Series.  And wait until they see that I’ve canceled class for a Research Day in the library on November 2nd.

They’ll learn; even if I am a Yankees fan, I’m a rock star teacher!  At least until they get to the last Sequence, in which I plan to make up for the minimal homework I’m giving them now.

I think I’m going to call it quits on my 13 hour day.  That’s enough time to give to teaching in a day, isn’t it?

Back to School and a Contest

I hope everyone had as relaxing a weekend as I did.  A bike ride, some house cleaning, a luxurious Sunday morning reading the Times, a picnic with my cousin and her friends all added up to a lovely time.

Tomorrow begins the academic year for me.  I’ve revamped my first sequence (on American culture this time) and will copy my syllabus today.  I’m going to try out a blog for my course this year; it could be a great tool if I use it right.  It’s a matter of figuring out how to use it right that will challenge me.

Even before I became a teacher, rather by accident, I worked for a college in their public relations office, and later in their sponsored programs office.  In my late 20s, September became once again a time for fresh starts, and I think I like it even better than New Year’s Day for that.  There’s a quality of opportunity to September.  I may have done things that didn’t work during the last academic year, but this time, I can try something new.  I can improve.

Neal and I reflected on our summer over the weekend.  The weather was the nicest I ever remember, and Neal’s flower gardens really took off this year.  Unlike last year when I felt that I had wasted the summer as I worried about living back east and finding a job, this year I had a summer that leaves me satisfied with myself.  It started, of course, with our wedding.  While we didn’t kayak as much as we wanted, it was fun to get on the water when we did.  In June we made it out to NM to put the cImg_0662ondo up  for sale, and despite the craziness that ensued near closing, we met our goal of closing by the end of June.  There was our fantastic party, with a visit from my NM pals Mike and Dana, including trips to New York and Boston. By the end of July, I finished my novella, and in August I began revisions and also managed to write three new essays.  There was a beach trip, and Neal and I both remembered how much we love to ride bikes, resulting in new road bikes and a few falls for me (those clipless pedals are a challenge!).  I read some good books, got closer to friends old and new, and knit almost every day. 

A good summer, no doubt.

Now with September comes cooler evenings and milder afternoons. I have some goals for this month, which include embroidering and knitting some Christmas gifts, revising my novella, and taking lots of bike rides.  What are your plans for September?

Oh, yeah, the contest.  Only a few more posts before I reach No. 300, and under 50 comments to go to reach 2000.  Did you notice Santa commented on the last post?  Who knew I had such a prestigious reader!