May 17, 2013, 3:28 pm
As an office-less adjunct, I have traditionally shied away from one-on-one workshops about writing with my students. It takes a huge amount of time to do, especially since I and my students are generally on the campus only at night. I know the value of such personal feedback, though, so in the last two semesters I have experimented with ways to make it work.
So now we lose one week of whole-class instruction to make way for individual time with the final paper, a purple pen, and me. Instead of our usual 2 hours 40 minutes of class time, meeting with everyone who chooses to (about two-thirds) takes about four hours per class.
I’ve got to say, this last round of workshops was highly gratifying. I saw such improvement in my writers. Not perfect papers by any means, but evidence of students ready for English 101 in the fall. They’ll be well equipped for the next step in their education…
May 13, 2013, 1:21 pm
(Blogger’s note: Regular readers should consider this the third and final installment in my brief series on using forms of “to be,”
the other two being which also includes “‘To Be’ or Not ‘to Be’?” and “To Be Clear.”)
There’s a conversation I have with my first-year composition classes almost every semester, usually triggered by a student’s question about one of the many things they were warned in high school never to do in an essay: Use first-person pronouns, use second-person pronouns, begin a sentence with “and,” “but,” or “because,” end a sentence with a preposition, and so on.
Can they do that in my class?, they want to know.
My answer is that there’s literally nothing they can’t do in a piece of writing, if they have a good enough reason—although if they’re going to use the F-word, for example, or an ethnic slur, they had better have a darn good reason. The corollary, I …
May 1, 2013, 3:41 pm
Academics are notoriously bad at what other professionals call “networking.”
That’s partly because we tend to be loners and introverts by nature. The whole idea behind networking—meeting people just to say that we’ve met them, cultivating relationships based on self-interest rather than on mutual interests, making “contacts” instead of actual friends—is foreign to those of us who have spent our lives in libraries or laboratories, working alone or in small groups.
But we also fail at networking in part because—let’s be honest—we tend to regard the whole business with distaste. Getting to know people just so that one day they can help us out—and then calling on them when we need their help—strikes us as calculating, undignified, perhaps even unethical.
Having spent all our lives in a supposed meritocracy, we prefer to rely on more empirical measures of ability and…
April 30, 2013, 2:16 pm
I have a manuscript. It’s a memoir of sorts, chronicling my path from the newsroom, to the classroom as an adjunct, to getting fired, to unemployment, to a tenure-track job. My purpose is multifold: to encourage college administrators to look to the adjunct pool first when hiring, to help adjunct faculty members realize that there can be life in academe beyond contingency, and to present an entertaining tale of an underdog.
But there’s a problem with the manuscript. It’s short. Not incomplete, just shorter than the average nonfiction book, and much shorter than academic nonfiction. I still have some tweaking to do, but it’ll probably be 25,000 to 30,000 words. My manuscript is meant for an audience of readers who are academics, but I’m not sure it’s an “academic” book. It’s also unusual in that it is a combination of my story and previously published pieces from this blog and other…
April 25, 2013, 4:06 pm
Ms. Mentor recently wrote about offering a class reward if, for a whole semester, no one asked a question whose answer could be found in the syllabus. A community-college accounting professor told me that she gives a giant candy bar to those few students who receive 100-percent test scores. I thought both of these ideas were fun and motivational.
I have two sons—one driven by a strong internal compass of right and wrong. He’s still young, but he doesn’t need many external rewards or punishments. His brother is the complete opposite, needing both carrots and sticks to get anything done.
Given the conundrums of extra credit, what other kinds of motivation have you used with students? I am more of a negative-reinforcement giver and think that I would do well to try to change a bit. Simply saying that an assignment will be worth more points if it’s turned in by a certain date, rather…
April 24, 2013, 2:16 pm
Students think I’m an “easy” teacher. For a quick and not-so-credible example, I have a 4.5 out of 5 “easiness” rating on RateMyProfessors. I also catch bits and pieces from the rumor mill. My classes fill up quickly, in part because students have heard that class is “easy.” While this still does get to me a little, it’s beginning to bother me less.
Hearing students say my class is easy used to really bother me. I thought that I wasn’t challenging them enough. I thought that I was too lenient. I thought that maybe students should feel more pressure in my class, like they do in some other classes. They would sometimes talk about how they have an exam coming up that they spent all weekend studying for. My immediate reaction was to feel offended that they didn’t spend all weekend researching their essays or otherwise examining their topics.
I’m beginning to realize that my classes—I…
April 22, 2013, 1:28 pm
Friends of mine say that I’m loyal to a fault. They don’t know the half of it. The truth is, I have many faults, and I’m loyal to all of them.
OK, so that’s an old joke. But it helps me introduce a difficult and highly fraught topic: the loyalty that institutions show, or fail to show, to the people who work for them—particularly the part-time faculty.
Several weeks ago, I went to a high-school basketball game in my community. It was Senior Night, the last home game for the host team, when senior players and their families are honored at halftime. Another Senior Night tradition is that the seniors get to start the game—or at least play significant minutes, if there are more than five—even if they haven’t usually logged much playing time.
This team had six seniors, two of whom were regular starters. Two others were in the rotation, meaning that they usually played a good…
April 19, 2013, 2:30 pm
“Consider offering extra credit for students who attend,” suggests e-mail after e-mail from various entities on campus. Senders are touting art exhibitions, philosophy debates, librarian outreach in the community, guest speakers, forums, and who knows what else.
These are great activities that would enrich my students if they attended. I hope they will do things outside of class to be part of the larger community. However, this message of extra credit is in direct opposition to the syllabus and standards that I have been told I must teach from.
For developmental English courses, how students are graded is spelled out very strictly at my college. I am only supposed to give credit for tests and writing assignments, with those category weights being dictated by the department. I dislike being managed so much but accept it as part of the job—particularly as an adjunct faculty member….
April 15, 2013, 12:31 pm
“Do upper-level administrators have to take CYA classes,” my wife wondered aloud the other day, “or is it just instinctive?”
“CYA,” of course, stands for “cover your a**.” Note that the question came from someone who has been a keen observer of administrative behavior for more than a quarter century. She and I also have four kids, the youngest a ninth grader, so we’ve been dealing with school administrators for about as long. And she still hasn’t figured out whether butt-covering is a job requirement, a primal response, or an art form.
Frankly, neither have I.
For example, there’s the administrator I used to work for at another institution who had adopted “CYA” as a kind of personal motto. I’m not kidding. She used to say it all the time, constantly admonishing us to cover ours and never missing an opportunity to follow her own advice. Rather infamously on that campus, she once …
April 12, 2013, 2:21 pm
I attended my grandfather’s funeral recently. He was a professor for more than 40 years, teaching tax law and other things that seem horribly boring to me. I was gratified that, in addition to family remembrances, a colleague from the university also spoke. Students were a huge part of my grandfather’s life, so much so that going out to eat with him was often difficult since we would run into people he knew everywhere.
The overall consensus from students was that my grandfather was exceedingly hard and exceedingly good at preparing them for whatever would come next—further training or a career. The rigor, while daunting, was understood and respected.
My young son, sitting next to me at the service, asked me if grandpa had taught me to be a teacher. At first I said no, but the question stuck with me. My grandfather was an attorney and businessman, in addition to being a professor….