May 10, 2012

Semester Over! How’d it go?

Well, the semester is over besides the tedious job of finishing up all my grading and turning in final grades. HOW DID IT GO?

Pretty well, I suppose.

This semester was most definitely a learning experience all around. I was expanding out of my comfort zone, teaching new stuff and generally being way the fuck more busy than I ever have been before. Well, mostly, anyway. I felt like I learned a lot, and I feel like next semester will be way more productive and useful than this one for my students because of what I learned. I do.

The biggest hurdle this semester was, totally, dealing with teaching my two “remedial” classes. It was just an experience I had never really had before, besides some one-off tutoring sessions with people at SEMO, and it was way different. I was dealing with people who had basically no confidence, and who did not understand things that, to me, seemed so very, very basic. I get why many people would not understand how to use a lot of the basic techniques of writing which I teach in most of my classes, but stuff like being unable to figure out what the main idea of a paragraph is? It’s kind of… weird. It requires a completely different style of teaching that I never really associated with college before. At the same time, in a lot of ways, it doesn’t. It requires you to treat them like they know what they’re doing, and force them to do things they’re uncomfortable with, in order to get them to the point where they can actually do what they need to do in order to survive. Forcing my reading class students to try to use these skills outside of the multiple choice format of the textbook was one of the smartest things I did. They struggled and hated it, but it gave them actual experience. It was nice. Same with my essay class. I graded them the same as anyone, just required shorter papers over easier topics. But I still pushed them to have transitions, and to write things that were worth reading. I didn’t give them a pass because they were struggling and, for the most part, they stepped up to the challenge.

Really, though, this semester was all a lesson in time management. Keeping track of four classes, what I’m doing in them and what is coming up, is hard! I normally just trust my brain to sort that stuff out, but with multiple classes on different time schedules doing similar things, I got confused pretty often. I am going to take WAY better notes next semester. Definitely.

Anyway, as much as I’m dreading a summer working at Kohl’s, I am glad it’s over and I can take a breather from teaching for awhile. It’s fun, it’s worthwhile, it’s what I want to do with my life at this point, but damn, is it draining sometimes. Taking a little while to do mindless work and hang out with boyfriends and stuff is exactly what I need.

March 23, 2012

Adventures in Introduction to College Reading

Sometimes I am just at a loss at what to do to help the students in my reading class.

Here’s the current situation. The chapter I’m teaching is called “Relationships” and it involves seeing what sort of organizational structure a paragraph uses. Here’s how a typical question in this chapter would go. The student would be given a paragraph like this:

The Zojirushi 16 oz Stainless Steel Thermal Mug is a miracle of modern design. The stainless steel construction is designed with preserving temperature in mind. In tests, the Zojirushi managed to hold heat in better than several other common thermoses available today. Similarly, the Zojirushi is designed with transportability in mind. The flip-top cap not only seals the bottle completely, but also gives you quick access to your beverage. A lock mechanism helps to keep it closed when you want it closed. Finally, the Zojirushi comes in a wide variety of fantastic colors to fit any style. Clearly, the Zojirushi 16 oz Stainless Steel Thermal Mug is the Thermal Mug of choice for the discerning Mug-purchaser.

Then they will be asked this question: Is this paragraph organized as a list of items, or in time order?

Clearly, this is a list of items, right?

My students can’t answer this sort of question. They’re trying, but they can’t, and I have no idea what to do. Usually, when a student has a problem, I can conceptualize where they may be having trouble seeing what’s going on, and thus extrapolate another way to explain things that would get around that blockage. With this, I can’t. I can’t understand how someone could be having trouble with this. Thus I just really don’t know how to show them how to figure this out. I try to point out key words within the text that indicate a paragraph is working chronologically, or try to show how the topic sentence of the paragraph wouldn’t work as one or the other, but they struggle. It’s not that they’re not trying. For the most part, I really feel they are. But something isn’t working, and I don’t know how to fix it.

This class has been by far my most challenging teaching experience. It’s all so… difficult. It’s difficult to teach people these things. Hopefully I’ll figure it out.

February 10, 2012

We’re All Doomed: What I Have Been Told About High Schools

I was going to write about music. Maybe I’ll do that for tomorrow. But I had this conversation with Cara and it just blew me away ( and I just have to ramble about it a little. Luckily, I have this blog to do so. It’s like I planned this or some shit!

Anyway, I was telling Cara about the student not knowing he was taking the test and the eventual failure of basically everyone in the class on that test. She has been substitute teaching in local high schools for awhile now, and offered me some stories to attempt to explain this thing. If anyone else but her told me these stories, I would have said they were made up to fuck with me. I was literally floored. I will share them with you now.

She first told the story of a straight A kid that slept through a test she was giving to the students. When asked if he was feeling sick, the student told her that he’s fine, he just didn’t get enough sleep, so he’ll talk to the teacher and take the test another day. This seemed crazy enough to me. But Cara then told me that it is school policy to let students retake tests until they “get a grade they are happy with.” So this student, who has seen the test now but not even attempted it, will now go look up the answers and then retake the same test and ace it. If he doesn’t ace it, he can try another time. This is apparently a thing a real high school is doing.

It didn’t end there, though. Cara then told me about a school that had a “no 0 policy.” Basically, a teacher can’t give you a 0 on an assignment. A bad grade, sure, but not a 0. So if you don’t want to take a test, you just need to write absolutely nothing on the paper. Then they are required to let you take it again, but again, you now know exactly what’s on the test and if you aren’t an idiot, you’ve looked up the answers. The same goes for assignments. If you don’t turn them in, you’re pestered to turn them in because the teachers can’t give you a 0. Apparently you have to go to Saturday school and do the assignments there? But you have help. You don’t need to worry about it.

This doesn’t even count stories I’ve been told about how there aren’t enough books to have take-home reading assignments for literature classes.

This made me really angry. Like, really angry! At some point, I have truly become a teacher, and I really care about the quality of education people are given. I looked at Cara, walked off, and said “We’re all doomed,” because that’s how I felt. The next generation has no fucking chance if this is really what we’re doing. No wonder I see so many students struggling with the very concept of actually having to turn things in on time and actually putting forth effort in class. It made me very glad my parents decided to pay to send me to a private high school where I actually had to do shit. I mean, I breezed through that too. But at least I had responsibilities. Goodness.

I’ve heard I’m a pretty strict and demanding teacher. But dammit, my students who don’t drop out LEARN SOMETHING. They tell me they learn something. They tell me they’ve learned more than they thought they would in my class. That’s because I make them put forth effort, and once they have to try, they can figure this stuff out. Once you give a shit, magically, things happen.

Ugh. Doomed, I say. We’re all doomed.

February 8, 2012

A Tale of Test-Giving

Today I gave a test, which is kind of the first actual like… test test I’ve given. I’ve always been a writing teacher. No tests there! Tests are stupid in a writing class. So I gave one this time, because I am teaching a non-writing class, so that seemed like the thing to do. It was a long test. Maybe it shouldn’t have been? I figured more questions = more room for error, so I went all out. But I’m new at this test-giving thing.

But during this test… well, I have to tell a story of what happened during this test.

So the test is in two parts. Part One is all open computer. It’s about research skills and whatnot, so they can look up whatever they want on the computer in front of them. Part Two is closed-book or whatever. No computer during that part. They have to give me Part One back before I give them Part Two to do, and once they turn in Part One, they’re in deep shit if they use their computers.
I hand out Part One, and everyone gets going. Of the two problem guys I talked about before, only one of them has decided to show up for the test. He’s clearly not working too hard on the test. I see him pull out his cell phone at least once during it. But fuck, it’s part one, he has the whole internet to refer to, so I don’t much care if he does something stupid with his phone. If he’s really having someone text him answers, more power to him. That has to be way the fuck more work than just looking them up in an online dictionary like he’s supposed to for the test.

Anyway, time passes. There’s maybe 10 minutes left of the test. He hasn’t even turned in part one yet. He packs up all his books, comes up to the front, and says “Hey, I gotta leave, I’ll finish that for homework.”
So, of course, I go, “No, you won’t, this is a test.”
He seems confused. “What?”
“This is our first test. We’ve been talking about it for over a week.”
“So I can’t finish it at home?”
“No, it’s a test.”
He pulls the test out of his bag where he had placed it, hands it to me, and walks out. I flip through it. He’s maybe, MAYBE halfway done with Part One after the hour and 15 minutes of this test. I staple a blank Part Two to his test, and put it away.

I was just kind of floored. I mean, if you aren’t going to take the test, don’t show up, right? A better use of your time, right? But I’m just more shocked that he didn’t realize it was a test when I really have been talking about it for awhile, and I had Test-taking procedures written on the board, and the damn thing said “test” on it. The note I left on the board of the normal classroom to point him to the computer lab to begin with said that my class was “in the computer lab for test-taking times.” It’s not like this was a secret.

This whole scenario just involves a level of not paying attention that I cannot even fathom. Why is he here? Why does he keep showing up only to leave in the middle of class, or walk out in the middle and walk back in right when everyone is packing up? He doesn’t participate in activities. He doesn’t do homework. Why is he wasting two hours a day attending my classes? I want to understand, but back when I was a slacker, I wasted my time wisely. I stayed at home and played video games. I didn’t go and sit through classes I didn’t want to be in. I did something fun instead! Why isn’t he off doing something he finds more valuable?

Again, I was a shitty student once, mostly due to depression. I always feel like I understand the students who don’t show up or don’t do homework because I have been there. I think they should do those things, but I get why they don’t, and I don’t take it personal. It’s their tuition money to waste how they like. But this guy… I just don’t know. I can’t understand it. I mean, if he’s not disrupting the class, it’s fine. Him not taking this test for no reason didn’t hurt the other students, so whatever. But goodness. What’s his motivation? I want to know what makes him tick.

January 27, 2012

I Am Frustrated With Some Students

I guess in general, in teaching, I’ve been lucky.

I’ve never really had any problem students. Nobody who was actively trying to disrupt my class or anything, you know? I had some people who cracked jokes and stuff? But that’s just fun, and most of them would contribute for serious as well. I welcome that sort of person. I am that sort of person sometimes.

This semester, I don’t know. Today’s reading class went REALLY badly, both because of disruptions and it throwing me off my game enough that I couldn’t think of anything else useful to do. (Okay, the fact that I am really feeling fairly sick probably didn’t help!) But I have these two guys. They don’t do their homework, and they sit in class and they talk the whole class. It’s not subtle in a class of 6 people to do that. When I have to talk over them, and they’re not doing a very good job at trying to whisper, that’s a problem.

Normally I’ll do one silly thing, or I’ll just stop and stare for a moment, and that snaps people out of it, and they’re no longer a problem when this happens. I started first for calling on them to answer something from homework I knew they didn’t do, so they’d pay more attention. Their reaction was actively complaining. “I wasn’t here for last class, why would I have the homework done?” To which I responded “Because you were here Tuesday, and I post assignments two classes ahead. You knew what was due.” To which they said they didn’t have any way of knowing and I was wrong. So I pointed out they were wrong, and moved on. It didn’t stop them from talking. I stared at them, silently, in the middle of a lecture. Stopped them for mere seconds. I stopped them and said “Hi, how are you doing? Everything going okay? Comfortable?” Again, only stopped them for moments. I did my hi routine again, and one of them said to me “Is this some sort of sarcasm thing?” That caught me off guard. I said “No, just wondering what’s going on.” They stopped talking then, but they were just actively doodling and not giving a shit the whole time.

I’ve never been bothered by underachievers before. That’s their choice: they can waste their money and not learn anything if they want. But what they were doing just felt so… active. It felt different. It felt like they were trying to get in my way. I didn’t understand why. They could go get a fucking burger or something and get out of my classroom if they didn’t even give two shits about what I was saying. I wouldn’t pester them about it. Hell, one of these guys has just walked right out of the class in the middle of an activity with no explanation, and I could see him outside the window just chatting on his cell phone happily (as in, it really didn’t seem like an emergency to me!). I didn’t give a shit about that. Do it, dude! Just leave! Do what you want!

Whatever. Just… don’t try to fuck up my class, okay? I am trying to help people here.

December 15, 2011

My First Real Semester: An After-The-Fact Rambling

Well, I turned in my final grades, so I guess my first non-student teaching class is officially over. Yay?
It was a really weird experience, but mostly a positive one.

For one, it was strange just kind of being completely and utterly on my own. I mean, I didn’t expect the intense oversight I had as a grad assistant, because I had been hired to do a job and I am an adult and will do the job. But goodness, I had like no contact with anyone, really. I was mostly just completely alone. I talked to a fellow teacher once the entire semester. Everyone in the offices left the moment my class started. I really probably could have done just about anything I wanted, as long as nobody complained. That’s just kind of a weird feeling, especially when I am so obscenely shackled at, say, Kohl’s, even though I am supposedly the boss of my little team. Again, I’m not an idiot. I’m there to do a job, one I believe is kind of important, and I’m not going to fuck that up. But knowing I could and probably would get away with it is kind of weird.

Secondly, it was just odd having such a small class. Everyone always says they want small classes, and there were a lot of awesome benefits to having such a small class. I could address issues one on one with everyone, and really make sure everyone understood the material. I got to know my students way, way better than I normally do in a class. But, you know, things like the normal three people being gone for a class, but that literally being over half your class? It affected me a bit more personally than I should have. I mean, I always caught myself. I understand all that shit. I’ve been a student. But it does make it harder to just go ahead with the lesson when you’re down to like two people. Lecture just seems weird then. Any kind of planned activity, really. Although it did make for some worthwhile classes.

Finally, it was just awesome to be me in the classroom for once. There were no problems in that regard. My mother’s pointless fears could not have been rendered more ridiculous. I am doing this stuff. It’s me. Fucking fantastic.

Yeah, I say this was a successful semester. We’ll see how I handle a larger course load next time around, hm? And hey, that’ll help me not be so trapped in horrible Kohl’s schedule hell, which will help a lot.

September 27, 2011

Close Readings, And Lack Thereof.

There is a fundamental difference between how I look at the world and how my students look at the world, I am finding.

I assigned what I thought would be a super-easy and fun paper: play some games, including some on a list I gave you of free online games if you don’t already have access to stuff, and tell me about your experiences playing them and how those experiences reflect on the overused “are games art?” question. I went out and put together a list of art games I really enjoyed, and got a lot out of, as well as some silly stuff I put in there for fun. I was really looking forward to seeing how my students interpreted the games.

Well, I’ve read several drafts of their essays now. None of them are “doing it wrong,” really. But wow, I am not getting the kind of essays I was expecting.

When I play something that is supposed to be an art game, I play it, and then I sit back and, like I do with poetry or literature, I go “what is this trying to say? What does it say?” I look at the parts and see what kind of deeper message might be hidden there. I piece things together. I make theories. I do close readings. I analyze.

This is what I expected my students to do, but looking at things in this way just doesn’t seem to be in their vocabulary at all. They don’t read into anything: they take what is there. In a lot of these art games, there is not a whole lot going on on the surface, so they find them stupid, repetitive, or otherwise boring. This is as far as they go.

There’s nothing wrong with that. There are definitely movies, games, and whatnot where that is the level of engagement I have with them. I am not trying to find deeper meaning in Crysis 2. I am just trying to shot mans, and that’s as far as I go. However, when you present something to me and tell me it’s art, I assume this is how I’m supposed to approach it. I assume there’s something underneath the surface. They haven’t been trained for that. When I look at something like Today I Die, I see a message about how changing your outlook on life can CHANGE your life. They look at it and see a dumb game where you swap some words around for no apparent purpose.

I wonder if all my schooling and English classing trained this in me, or if it’s just something I’ve always done. I certainly can’t think back and think about myself as someone who would approach these games this way. I also wonder if it’s something I should be trying to teach my students. I mean, it’s not completely necessary to look at art like that, outside the sort of circles I roll in. Still, maybe not having that indicates a lack of trying to look through and understand any message, or how anything works. I don’t want to presume this about my students, but I wonder.

In any case, this assignment has been a seriously eye-opening experience. I’ve also been fairly impressed by how well some of the people who keep going on and on to me about “not being able to write essays” are doing, as they’re doing better than some of the people not telling me these things. I’ll keep on teaching. We’ll see what else happens.

February 24, 2011

Yeah, I Can Do That For The Rest Of My Life

Okay, so, this isn’t about porn or about Magic cards, but that’s because things happened. Grandma is in the hospital with a broken hip. It’s, as I put it in a conversation earlier, an un-good situation. You’ll also have to excuse me if I don’t want to write about it at the moment.

However, after seeing my Grandma in the hospital, I went to my Poetry Workshop, as I do on Wednesdays. After being all emotional in the parking lot, I went to class and did my workshop thing. I cracked jokes. I literally had the whole group pausing to laugh and catch their breath at several points. I gave out some good feedback. When I finally left, I realized that I felt a lot better. I was happy.

This coming after the night before, where I covered for Lynn and ran her workshop by myself, and had a complete and utter blast. It was so much fun, and I think I did a great job at running that, as well. The night before that, I wrote a speech about pedagogy just for the hell of it and delivered it, which was an enjoyable experience.

Seriously, there’s a lot of work and bullshit involved in education, and I’m never going to be rich. But seriously, the more I do this kind of thing? The more I get involved and get to really do it? The more I know this is, by far, the right career path for me. I can do this over and over again. I can enjoy it. I know what I want to be when I grow up.

That’s something, anyway.

Of course, first order of business before all that: get everyone back to healthy status. Here’s hoping.

January 22, 2011

I Am The Quizmaker

Teaching an online class has forced me to have to make quizzes.

I’m not one that thinks that a quiz is the best way to judge how much somebody knows. However, I am a person who understands how incredibly stressful and not viable always doing things the right way is. There are plenty of more useful exercises in the class, but I want to give my students a point buffer and make sure they at least skim the textbook at the same time, because there is some stuff in there. Quizzes are the best way to do that in an online format.

Still, since I’m making quizzes, I have to have fun with it. It’s the only way.

Here’s the meta masterpiece of a question I wrote today: “True or False: Describing a complex situation as only having two possible outcomes is an example of an Either/Or Fallacy.”

That one is kind of subtle, but made me grin so hard when I thought of it. Of course, when I make multiple guess questions, there are five boxes for possible answers. You have to have one or two possible answers so that people actually have to know their shit to get the question right, but I mean, there are five boxes. It’s hard not to make one of them something completely ridiculous. Thus I’ve put lots of crazy phrases, quotes from the Big Lebowski, just about anything I can think of as that useless fifth answer.

Making a good quiz is fairly hard, still. In a lot of situations, it’s hard to think of plausible but incorrect options, as well as just figuring out ways to reduce a section of text into a multiple choice question. But at least I’m finding ways to entertain myself. Hopefully my students will at least get a minor chuckle when they finally get around to taking these online quizzes.

December 1, 2010

My Students Are Trying To Tell Me Something

Before my day went to total shit, I was grading papers. I pick up papers just, you know, off the stack in the order they are.

First paper thesis: Sodas are bad for you. It’s a whole paper just scaring you about how bad sodas are for your health. “Fair enough, they are kind of bad,” I said. I commented on the paper, “No citations!,” and moved on to the next one.

Second paper thesis: Energy drinks are bad for you. All kinds of health problems and issues, blah blah blah. Similar format. “Well, alright, that is a common sort of idea, sure,” I thought. I graded away. “No citations!” Next paper!

Third paper thesis: Sodas are bad for you. Again. Clearly different paper, of course, but same topic, similar points.

I look ahead. “Okay, thing about bottled water next, then… energy drinks again.”

I turned around in my chair. “These papers are trying to tell me something,” I told Cara. “They want me to stop drinking Soda and Energy Drinks.”

Then I went and got a soda from the fridge in the office.