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9/11/08 06:12 pm - tyratae - how to know when you're doing it right

last class of the day, 6-to-almost-8pm, i'm tired, my students are tired, & this is the batch that tends to make progress the most slowly and with whom i have the most ennui to fight (which is still so much less than what i'm used to that it makes me giddy): E, my heckler for his section, who always sits at the back of the room, has been complaining (albeit somewhat good-naturedly) about the details of the assignment he's working on each time i wander back to where he and his cronies sit. halfway through the period, maybe more, i make my way back there again, and he glares at me over the paper he's diligently writing on.

"this class is hardcore," he says, gesturing at the several things he's written during this meeting already. "i know," i answer cheerily. "it's a writing class. that's what we do." the next time i come back there, he's got a different comment to offer:

"i'm still having trouble starting that history paper," he says. "got any advice?"

yes, of course i have. we have lots of advice when we're hardcore.

9/7/08 11:07 am - tyratae - my favorite recurring teaching experience

...is when i get to tell the black students* who arrive in my classrooms shamefaced about their "bad" street- or home-grammar that their English is richly, genuinely, structurally grammatical & in some of its structures more effective and versatile than the standard written form in the textbook, which i always make sure to tell them i know because i studied it in graduate school. we swap in the language of "situational appropriateness" instead of "good" and "bad"--all of the students in my classes, they need to get better at the grammar that's "good for this purpose."

i've had a few look at me distrustfully, like i'm just blowing sunshine at them and they can't figure out why i would want to, but more of them get this look on their faces like "holy shit!" as they think through the implications of having been not wrong--having been speaking and writing a "real" grammar--their entire lives. it's my favorite classroom face ever.

*if i lived in texas or california or someplace with a larger spanish-speaking population, for example, i'm sure i'd be giving a version of this talk that related to spanglish or chicano/chicana structures; in the hills of appalachia i gave a version of it to a number of white students who spoke with the particulars of a different community English. but in the places i've lived so far, these are the students who've most often initiated the conversation by apologizing for what they assume i will perceive as their insufficiencies, and so they're the ones i've most often had the pleasure of getting to have this conversation with.

8/28/08 11:55 am - tyratae - spanning the venues

today's teaching-related post appeared in my regular lj to tell folks where i've been & try to alert a few of them who might care that this spot is here for future reference, so if i'm not on your flist and you want to see it, click my name & pop on over.

who's teaching (or administrating!) what this semester? (don't just comment, post!)

8/25/08 10:02 pm - tyratae - end of day 1 report

my head is killing me, the combination of florescent lights for 12 hours and then night-driving for a squinty hour of needle-lights from oncoming traffic sucks, and i'm very, very tired.

but i think i'm in love with all of my students.

8/24/08 10:41 pm - tyratae - teach?ng s?tuat?ons

i've been really, really lucky so far in my college teaching opportunities--all TA-ships except that one class with two students--to have had a lot of--a week or even two--orienting, prepping, and good quality advising before winding up in each semester's classrooms, & gearing up for tomorrow has really brought that into sharp relief.

after one meeting with my coworkers & my supervisor, & a couple hours of very informative campus-wandering that wasn't on anybody's schedule but happened because my new friend teresa is terrific (thanks to her i have a parking pass, an ID card, health insurance handouts, and at least a visual for where my office will be!), i'm going in tomorrow to teach 4 classes in rooms i've never seen, with no idea what their layout or technological capabilities might be (or even where in their legendarily maze-like building to find them). i'm meeting 88 students tomorrow & have yet to see one roster, because i'm in some of the computer systems but not all of them, & so with 12 hours to go they're still a batch-count instead of people (& i don't know why that makes so much of a difference to me, because there's nothing a list of names would tell me about them that i don't know already--they're freshmen, they're majoring in *something* they don't know much about yet, and they will be unique & fascinating people no matter what they're called. but i like names, i want human words instead of numbers, and so it adds to my un-balanced-ness). i think i've followed the right procedure to request copies of my syllabus to hand out in the morning (and handouts for wednesday's classes) but i'm not sure, so i have to go in braced for what to do with a 2-hour first-day class if i don't have a syllabus.

i think there are keys waiting for me to get me into an office that, last i heard, was a storage room for computers that weren't for my office-mate and i; ours are reputedly there but so far don't have monitors. i know where the mail room is, i think, and last time i saw it it was stuffed with office supplies, so i have faith that somebody believes i will soon have an office! i don't know if there's a fridge to put a lunch in or a microwave if i take leftovers, thought, so i'm not packing anything yet. i've been told there are cafes in a couple of the close-by buildings, but i don't know whether any of them will still be open by the time i get my first break at 4pm. i don't know how to access the campus wireless, so i won't be taking my computer tomorrow--especially as there might not be an office to leave it in. (to be entirely fair, logistics is also a significant part of this; i had email late last week saying my key(s?) were left at campus security & although nobody knew why i couldn't access electronic rosters, there were paper copies in my mailbox, but in the interest of both the environment and my economics (for the first time, too, i'm not working at a campus i can walk to), i couldn't justify a 100-mile round trip just to collect those things and prowl dark halls looking for room numbers!)

none of this is a complaint, of any kind, about the institution where i'm starting tomorrow--it's really important to me that my readers get that. the people i've met so far have been nothing but kind, interested, helpful, interesting, encouraging, and above all student-centered in their thinking & in the things we talk about, and i have no doubt that it's a good place, that i'm in good hands, that everything will eventually work out just fine, and that at the end of the year i'll be the one telling folks what a great place it is to work, just like folks have been telling me. i'm really excited about it. it's just that it's a suny school, which means in non-new-yorkers' terms that it's essentially a state-funded community college, and this is how things work. & although i've been spoiled rotten TAing for R1s, i was first, way back in the day, trained for and inducted into education in the public schools--i'm an old hand at ad-libbing, and at answering students' questions with "let me write that down so i remember to ask, and i'll get back to you."

but i know that answer, while honest and just and right, doesn't instill the same confidence as knowing how they get on the wireless, what's allowed at the library, how late the gym's open, or where to go to declare a major, complain about a roommate, inquire about counseling, get an allergy shot... things i would likely have known at tech, or even things like what the grading scale is in arts & sciences, what counts as a "pass" for a course, or what happens if they flunk. can they re-take a class? do failures & successes get averaged together? is there a "freshman rule"? & it's that part that i don't like--i don't need to have everything figured out, but i wish i knew the stuff my students were likely to want to know, so that in their messy, confusing, complicated first days, i would be a useful, stable-seeming stone of some sort, not another source of confusion. nobody wants to hear their first-ever college teacher say "i don't know either; i'm new too!"

& here's what all this has me thinking about, other than about that list of stuff i wish i knew: when i was an undergrad, i had no idea what adjuncts even were. as an adjunct, though, i'm perceiving myself as potentially being somewhat of a liability to these undergrads--surely, they'd be better off in the hands of somebody who knew what the heck was going on! so i'm wondering how much of a disadvantage the out-of-it adjunct really is to the newbie undergrad, how much i need to compensate for; i wonder if i had adjuncts, and was just so self-absorbed and trusting not to notice if they were half-prepared and clueless, or if they were so much less pervasive 15 years ago that i might have gone through school without any (or maybe my school had the resources to prep them with the same week of training the TAs got!). i wonder if my number-batch of 88 yet-unnamed bodies will be done a disservice by all of the things i won't know tomorrow. and, too, i wonder if they'll ever notice!

it's also possible, of course, that i'm stressing out about minor details because the first-day jitters i say i don't get look instead like control-freak-ism over here. wish me luck with the logistics coming together tomorrow (and a syllabus!), and wish me good faking-it juju, and envy me the cool people i get to work with (although our schedules don't have much overlap, so i may or may not actually get to see any of them)... it should be an adventure.

8/13/08 05:18 pm - tyratae - anybody still out there?


i know it's been a year and a half since i've put anything here, and even that was a bit of a stretch for me--it's to hard to talk about teaching, & theorize the field in ways that relate to teaching, when i'm not teaching (and i really don't personally give a rat's about theorizing about it in ways that don't... although any posters/lurkers here are certainly welcome to care in that direction more than i do!). BUT!!!

this year, i shall be teaching. 5 classes, in fact, all English 101/201 variants, and i'm really, really psyched. it's been years, and far longer than any gap of any kind i'd had since i was first let in a classroom back when i was an undergrad training to teach in middle schools, so it feels as though a weird epoch has come and (i don't actually believe it yet) will soon be gone.

actually, technically, i did teach last year, a 6 hour workshop that met on 2 saturdays and a "section" of 201 that was 2 students and i meeting over coffee once a week at Barnes and Noble, but it wasn't the same. it wasn't the crazy trenches 20+ bodies in the room all w/their own agenda stuff we do this for! so it doesn't count.

point of the matter is: as part of being excited about teaching again, i'm excited about getting to talk about teaching again, and i hope some of you lurkers are interested in striking up a conversation. for the couple posts that have trickled in since i've been paying any real attention, i'm sorry; dissertation-writing in the void is lonely and hellish and can suck the "care" out of you. but i'd like to come back, if you'll have me.

who's out there? what are you teaching? what do you love most about it?
talk to me.

7/8/07 09:05 pm - redsnake05 - school culture and marketing (oh, and an introduction)


I'm new here, and hoping that this community is still alive and twitching a bit. I'm a teacher. I have taught for ten years in various settings (laboratory demonstrator, ESOL teacher, museum educator) and am now finally getting my diploma to teach secondary.

One of the tasks I have to complete for my diploma is to "demonstrate an understanding of school culture and marketing".

Now, I find this whole topic quite quixotic. School culture, yes, the combined result of how a school is based on interactions between students, teachers, school managers, government departments, parents and the wider school community, with some interactions contributing more weight as a result of power imbalances in the interactions, I get that. But marketing? In combination with school culture?

I mean, I get the idea that marketing is done to sell a set of ideas or values (culture), but why does a school need to do this?

It might be different in other countires, but in NZ, you go to the closest school and that's pretty much it unless your family is really wealthy (you go to an old, private school), fiercely religious (various denominations available), determinedly alternative (Steiner and homeschooling), or really remotely located (single-sex boarding schools or correspondence). So why do we have to market our schools?

Can anyone here give me or point me in the direction of where this idea came from and what drives it?

2/10/07 11:13 am - tyratae - indicative

one of the things i'm doing for one of the chapters of this dissertation is examining a handful of popular handbooks & textbooks to look at what our assigned texts tell students about our beliefs regarding sources of authority--their own authority as writers and the authority of others that source-use in research writing seeks to invoke. doing this requires pouring over the books at a microscopic level, asking questions like "what language, exactly, do these writers use to tell students why they're citing sources in the first place?" <--do we tell them it's a way of entering into broader conversations? a way to prove we know what we know by revealing where we've been? an ass-saving shield to avoid being charged with plagiarism? (i've come across all of these portrayals, actually...)

outside of the specifics of what each writer or group of writers says about x, though, whichever-x, it has to be indicative of something inherent to the nature of these books that even skimming--let alone close reading--the handbook we've been using here for the past few years makes me wish the pages weren't waxy-shiny because i'd really like to set the thing on fire, and reading through the latest edition of Hacker makes me long for a classroom to get back into so i can put my hands on this stuff and teach some writing.

so kudos to the late DH. (xp to c&a)

1/31/07 05:50 pm - west_wind - Random Thoughts; Or, What are we really *trying* to do?

I'm always fascinated by my resistance to saying the phrase, "I think you mean 'such and such a word' here," even though I will do that when a student misuses a word. I'm also interested in my desire to try to understand what my student means. When we're talking about the thesis, or lack thereof, a student will say, "I guess what I was trying to say..."

I myself try not to tell the student what she or he means, what that person was trying to say.

I cringe when I find myself imposing my meaning onto theirs.

So what the heck am I trying to do then?

I use words like, "work toward" forming a thesis; "force yourself" to sit down and write; "polish" the flow between sentences...the phrases are eluding me somewhat, but I'm sure they'll come back to me as I start my next round of grading. The point is, the language I use is often at odds with my pedagogical values. And yet, I can't stop using it. It's all I know to use when I want to talk about and teach this complicated task of writing. It's work, it's hard, it takes practice, it never comes out the way we mean...

Of course, I often start writing these days without knowing what the fsck I mean.

In theory I talk about the slipperiness of meaning -- I even talk about it with my students. But in practice, how do we acknowledge this and put it into play in the classroom? How do we move away from the discipline that's required to write and write well and into an understanding of all that writing entails.

I don't have any answers to this. Maybe if I did I would have less work to do; I don't know.

I'm sure there's lots of scholarship out there on this dilemna. Probably stuff I've read and just forgotten about. But I have come to feel that usually the articles and books on this topic end up leaving me disappointed. I don't think it's something anybody has figured their way out of.

So I'll just go on, doing what I do. At least I'll be conscious of and careful about my language. That's a start, right?

4/10/06 09:49 pm - west_wind - a minor petty grievance I need to get off my chest

Ever get the feeling someone is f*ng with you? I have a student who I think is maybe lying, maybe not, to try to get out of something and might possibly be hurting, or attempting to hurt, some of said student's classmates in the process. But I can't know for sure. To be honest, I really don't give a f*ck, but I would like to be as fair as possible in this situation to all involved. If this person really didn't do what she was supposed to do, I don't want the other students to be affected by it. I'm also pretty frustrated that the conditions were even possible for this situation to occur, and a large part of that is my fault. I'm always learning how I'll do things differently, and hopefully better, next semester, so I guess this is one of those instances. It's funny how something new happens each semester that I could never have predicted. If this is my only unforeseeable event, then I'm okay with that. Currently I'm feeling that tightness I get in my chest when I'm pissed off and don't feel like I have any control over the situation, but I know this will pass and I will get over it. The only thing I can control is my reaction to the situation, so that is what I should focus on.

Aaaaahhhh...deep breath....

Okay, feeling better now.

I feel bad that this is my only post to this composition forum and it has to be about such a minor thing. I would really like to be posting deep, valuable thoughts and ideas here, but, alas, my head hasn't been in composition as much as I would like it to have been. Actually, it's sort of been up theory's ass lately. An odd place to find myself in, to be sure. But there is some composition in there as well, and I feel confident that I will find myself back at that place eventually.

M'kay. Enough late-night rambling.
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