Class Report: ENGL 216, 30 April 2018

For the first class meeting, discussion focused on introductions to the discipline, the course, the instructor, and the course project. Basic rhetorical concerns received attention, as did other underlying matters needed for student success in the class.

Students were reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions (four posts per graded thread), due online before 0059 on 7 May 2018
  • Week 1 Homework (p. 656, #9), due online as a Word document before 0059 on 7 May 2018

Students are urged to be at work selecting topics for the course project and doing background reading to inform the course project.

Class met slightly other than scheduled, at 1800 in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus (instead of the assigned 111; class relocated against non-working air conditioning). The class roster listed ten students enrolled; four attended, assessed informally. Student participation was reasonably good. Office hours have not yet occurred.

Another Reflection on My Writing

I seem to be writing about my writing a fair bit recently, a wonderfully meta-scriptorial (if that’s the word for it) series of pieces that may or may not serve to help others get through their own writing experiences. I nurture the hope that they do, and I have some reason for that hope; I occasionally get comments from students that they have looked at what I have left here and used it to their own advantage. So that much is to the good–and I hope that I can offer more that will continue to be of aid, if not in my classroom, in the efforts of others in theirs and in their lives outside them.

In the spirit of discussing my own writing with an eye toward helping others with theirs, I offer the following comments, then, and note that I have recently returned to a practice I’d long employed and then too long set aside before taking it up again: journaling. Not long before I completed my student teaching, I started putting my pen to the pages of actual bound journals, doing so partly as a meditative act and partly because, with the looming completion of my undergraduate studies, I felt quite adult and thought that keeping such a record was the kind of thing that an adult ought to do. I kept the practice up, albeit not as regularly or thoroughly as I ought to have done, across the years of my graduate study and past it, finally wearing out in May 2017, when I faltered and failed to keep up with my intent, and I let the intention go as I had so many others.

Or I tried to do so, at least. Really, I had no more success in setting aside my journal-writing and my regrets about it than I have had about leaving academia (about which I’ve also done a fair bit of writing in recent memory); the uncompleted volume of my journal stared at me form my desk, eyeless but still with plaintively blaming gaze, and as often as I looked again at academic job listings, I berated myself for not taking up my pen again. (That is to say “entirely too damned often.”) And so I acquiesced at length to that particular urge, and I picked up a leather-bound journal once again, beginning to put my pen to it–and using pens long given to me as gifts, to boot, rather than the plastic throw-away things I had been using.

It has only been a few days since I have returned to the practice, to be sure, but I already feel better about my writing from doing so. My pen-hand is still quite poor, admittedly, but more than a decade of fairly regular practice in the earlier journals had not improved it, so I am not surprised that it has remained as ugly as it ever was. More importantly, I feel myself better able to put words together in some semblance of legible order–something I attribute to the resumption of more practice writing, and doing so engaging more of myself than typing allows. For when I write with pen, I invoke different muscle memories than those I use when I type, and the added engagement of the kinesthetic–and the olfactory, with the ink, paper, and leather each having their own aroma–brings more to me and so calls more from me. I have to think it helps me, and I need all the help I can get.

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On Lullabies

A recent Twitter thread in which I participated sprang from a new parent commenting on having to sing lullabies despite not knowing many. The new parent is a long-time friend with whom I’d discussed impending parenthood (and likely with not entirely welcome advice along the way, as I realize now, for which I apologize), one who’d shared with me excitement at becoming a parent, and the lullabies comment was posted publicly, so I thought I’d chime in on it. Doing so showed me a variety of versions of one particular lullaby that seems fairly consistently used–at least in its earlier verses–and prompted from me the comment that the lullabies my wife and I sing to our daughter go to strange places.

As I think on it more, I am more convinced of it. The original example, singing of a series of acquisitions starting from a mockingbird, finds its way to a Grecian urn that will be discarded if it does not ode; my wife is responsible for most of how the verses get there, although I admit to following up a few verses later with talk of a singing thrust that ought to beard. But my wife and I both hold advanced degrees in English–we fell in love over Beowulf, in fact–so that we would make slanted references to older verse and fairy tales could perhaps be expected. And I think that neither of us necessarily recalls the lullabies we were sung, either; my wife is the younger of two, and while I am the elder of two, it has been decades since my brother was young enough to take lullabies.

Making such a comment, though, reminds me that there were many years I fell asleep with music in my ears, a Walkman or a Discman slid under my pillow and headphones clasped about my head. It is for such reasons that songs like “The Pinnacle” and “Miracles out of Nowhere” remain in my mind as strongly as they do, and that my daughter’s been sung to sleep to the tune of “Lonely Wind” and “All the World” more than once. I imagine something similar informs my wife singing Beatles tunes and Simon and Garfunkel to Ms. 8 to ease her towards sleep. And I have to think that my brother, the musician, who looks forward to the birth of his son, will have even broader a selection for his coming child.

What it says about us that we pass on what we pass on is always worth consideration, of course, and I know that what my wife and I are giving to Ms. 8 shows our backgrounds and training–and, in my case, at least, both the delight in working with what I treat and the lingering bitterness of the times I have been thwarted in pursuing that work. I know that the latter is less than helpful, and I try to hide it from her (although I know she sees more clearly than to allow me to do so), but I worry also that the nerdiness embedded in most of the things I do will not only color or taint her perspectives on the world, but that it will lead her into pitfalls I faced–and I would have her avoid my mistakes, if it could be. And so even something as seemingly benign and commonplace as a lullaby sung to a child who may well never consciously remember hearing it has to be examined a bit more carefully–not only for figuring out how to proceed with the song itself, but also for figuring out how to guide that audience down the years to come.

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Reflective Comments for the March 2018 Session at DeVry University in San Antonio

Continuing a practice I most recently iterated at the end of the January 2018 session at DeVry University in San Antonio, comments below offer impressions of class performance among students enrolled in SPCH 275 and ENGL 135 during the March 2018 session at that institution. After a brief outline of each course and statistics about it, impressions and implications for further teaching are discussed.

SPCH 275: Public Speaking

Students enrolled in SPCH 275 during the March 2018 session were asked to complete a number of assignments in quick succession. Many, including the weightiest, related to the overall course project; others were presentations meant to offer practice in speech-giving and homework reflecting upon performance in the presentations. Those assignments and their prescribed point-values are

20180300 SPCH 275 Grade Breakdown

  • Online Discussions
    • Two threads in each of Weeks 1-7, 15 points each
  • Homework Assignments
    • Week 1, 20 points
    • Week 2, 20 points
    • Week 3, 20 points
    • Week 4, 25 points
    • Week 5, 50 points
    • Week 6, 25 points
    • Week 7, 30 points
  • Weekly Presentations
    • Week 1, 25 points
    • Week 2, 35 points
    • Week 3, 50 points
    • Week 4, 100 points
    • Week 5, 50 points
    • Week 6, 100 points
  • Course Project
    • Weekly Work, Weeks 2-7, 15 points each
    • Final Presentation, 150 points

Unlike before, most assignments were assessed holistically, with assessment being conducted more gently in light of less formality.

The section met on Wednesdays from 1800-2150 in Room 108 of the San Antonio campus of DeVry University. Its overall data includes

  • End-of-term enrollment: 5
  • Average class score: 698.91/1000 (D)
    • Standard deviation: 174.36
  • Students earning a grade of A (900/1000 points or more): 0
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 600/1000 points): 1

Attendance was recorded with each class meeting. Despite that, absenteeism was a problem in the course. Perhaps concomitantly, non-submission of assignments was also a problem, with several students failing to submit one or more major assignments–and suffering grade penalties as a result.

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ENGL 135: Advanced Composition

Students enrolled in ENGL 135 during the March session were also asked to complete a number of assignments in quick succession. Many, and the weightiest, related to the overall course project; others were homework meant to practice skills used in the workplace and in later stages of the course project. Those assignments and their prescribed point-values are

20180300 ENGL 135 Grade Breakdown

    • Discussions
      • Weeks 1 and 7, 60 points each
      • Weeks 2-6, 30 points each
    • Homework
      • Information Literacy Module- 30 points
      • APA Assessment Activity Module- 30 points
    • Course Project
      • Topic Selection- 50 points
      • Source Summary- 100 points
      • Research Proposal- 50 points
      • Annotated Bibliography- 100 points
      • First Draft- 75 points
      • Second Draft- 80 points
      • Final Draft- 120 points
      • Reflective Postscript- 50 points
    • Participation- 45 points

As before, most assignments were assessed by means of rubrics provided by the institution. Other assignments were generally assessed by rubrics of similar form, announced to students in advance of assignments being due and returned to students with comments once assessment was completed. Some few were assessed holistically, with assessment being conducted more gently in light of less formality.

The section met on Saturdays from 0900-1250 in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus of DeVry University. Its overall data includes

  • End-of-term enrollment: 13
  • Average class score: 597.97/1000 (F)
    • Standard deviation: 269.96/1000
  • Students earning a grade of A (900/1000 points or more): 2
  • Students earning a grade of F (below 600/1000 points): 5

Despite shifts in assessment that meant attendance was able to influence grading, absenteeism was a problem in the course. Perhaps concomitantly, non-submission of assignments was also a problem, with several students failing to submit one or more major assignments (one submitted none of the major assignments and only a handful of the minor ones)–and suffering grade penalties as a result.

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Impressions and Implications

There is always something to say about the teaching that goes on during a session. Some of it is held over from earlier work; I continue to go off on tangents, for one thing, although they seem to have been better integrated into the lectures and discussions this session than in many previous ones. And absenteeism continues to be a problem, as does non-submission; I do what I can to prompt showing up and turning work in, but I teach adults, and my hold over them is sharply limited.

Assigned topics–in this case, curricular reform–did not go over as well this time as in the past. The speech class accepted the topic, but not as much was done with it as might be hoped. I want to put that down to it being the first time I’ve taught the class at the present institution; being less familiar with it meant that I did not know what problems were likely to occur, so I could not correct for them. But I do not think I can ascribe all of the difficulty to that.

The composition class largely avoided the topic, many students noting to me that they did not feel competent to treat it. Given the non-traditional student body with which I work, I can understand the concern, although I argued to them that they, having lived outside academe and in the “real” world (problematic as that term is), are well-positioned to see what does and does not correspond to the demands imposed outside the ivory tower. Still, given that few if any attempted it, I feel I must adjust my approach.

That said, I will make at least one more attempt to use the specific topic; the ENGL 216: Technical Writing class I am assigned for the May 2018 term will be treating it, with my thinking being that the more advanced students will have more agency with the topic–and restricting them from the pallid institution-suggested topics will produce better, more engaged work. Further, if I am given another section of ENGL 135, it will return to a fall-back for me: humor. I can hope that future students will enjoy their work more, and that I will have an easier time reading, as a result. And, if I am given another section of the speech class, I will convert the weekly course project work to participation scores much as I have done with an assignment in ENGL 135.

All of this, of course, assumes that I will continue to have the opportunity to teach. I am aware of my contingent status and therefore appreciate that each offer of a course is a gift whose endurance I cannot take for granted. As such, I remain grateful for the opportunity to put to use those skills that years of study have developed in me and for the chance to help others cultivate their skills and themselves.

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On Reflecting on My Writing Again

One of the things I have done with my writing is to collect it. That is, I keep copies of the things that I have written, many of which are gathered into large computer files and arranged by genre and chronology. There are reasons beyond the narcissism I believe endemic to all who will write–or draw, or paint, or perform in any way they seek to have others see and appreciate–for me to do so. Having a perspective on how my writing has changed since the earliest pieces I have in the collection–early in my life as an undergraduate English major–helps. Having a record of ideas I’ve treated and might return to (although that happens but rarely, to be sure) also helps. Less helpful but quietly comforting is the idea that there is more to what I have done than many or most will know, that there are secrets not kept out of shame but to have something special that might somehow, sometime be of value to some others. And the idea that I am leaving a record for Ms. 8 (and perhaps others) has its attractions for me, the more so since my journal-writing seems long since to have lapsed, and I am not at all sure that it will begin again.

As I was updating the file recently, though, and reading over the comments I have left about each of the pieces I’ve put in it, I was reminded that the collection is a collection of failure. Each piece in it is one that I either wrote for a class and never revised and resubmitted, so that I failed to follow up on ideas, or it was one that I sent out for publication and failed to put into print–even print with so low an entry barrier as this webspace. However I might have felt about what I wrote when I wrote it, however wrong I think the selectors were who chose other pieces to take up than mine, the collected writing I have gathered over some years now–and I’ve been working on the project intermittently for quite a while–is a record of failure, yet one more such for me, and one that I have put together myself–even if I did not think that was what I was doing when I was doing it.

As with the other records of my failures, though, that of my failed publications will likely remain with me. Part goes to my bibliophilic tendencies; I keep text. Also, again, I do occasionally pull older ideas and rework them. Too, Ms. 8 may someday be interested in reading what I’ve written, or my wife might, or someone else who decides they give something that resembles a damn might. And I admit to no small degree of automasochism; I tend to flagellate myself with reminders of my failings, not to spur me to later success (clearly), but because…well, I’m actually not sure why. But I know I keep doing it, over and over again.

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Class Report: ENGL 135, 21 April 2018

For the final meeting of the session, class was given largely to completion of the reflective postscript. Student questions were entertained and comments made about work as appropriate.

Students are reminded that the final component of the Course Project is due before the end of day Saturday, 21 April 2018.

The class met as scheduled, at 0900 in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster listed 13 students, unchanged since last class; one attended, assessed informally. Class participation was as could be expected for the circumstances. No students attended Monday office hours.

In another Response to Erin Bartram

On 8 April 2018, the online Chronicle of Higher Education published Erin Bartram’s “Why Your Advice for Ph.D.s Leaving Academe Might Be Making Things Worse.” In the piece, Bartram summarizes responses to her earlier piece regarding leaving academia (about which more here) before moving into explications of two points she recommends to those who will give advice to they who depart academia: know that the advice is of limited use, and know that the advisee is not fully known to the adviser. Although Bartram goes to some length to explain her assertions, they still come off as a rather sharp rebuke to perhaps well-meaning but generally inept academics whose own circumstances are as assured as their advisees’ are not.

I’ve noted several times that I have more or less done as Bartram is doing; I have long since given up on landing a full-time, tenure-line–or even continuing non-tenure-track–academic job (although, as I’ve also noted, I still pick up contingent work as a useful supplement to my income–but I am under no illusion that it will be a permanent thing). I am perhaps a bit ahead of her in finding steady work outside academe, though it was not an easy thing to do; I put in nearly 200 job applications before landing my current position, which is one of those nonprofit jobs that “look like a dream” to Bartram, and I was very much in the position to take any job that would have me. (Not many would, else I’d not have had to put in nearly 200 applications to find one.) And I would not presume to say that the challenges I have faced are the same as those she has faced and is facing. Even so, I find much of interest in her article–although my experience with getting advice when exiting academia has generally been from the other side of things. That is, what I’ve gotten has been from embedded support structures and those outside academia.

That I have support structures in place is a boon, I know, and I am not unmindful of how lucky I am to have it in place. But that does not mean I was not immensely frustrated with it at many points while I tried to make my pivot to the world outside the ivory tower. And that frustration derived in large part from those outside academia, in stable jobs that they have had for years, giving advice that rang of limited knowledge of current circumstances and of particulars of my situation. It is difficult, after all, not to find it vexatious to be told to send out more job applications when, in the space of a month, I’d send out more applications than some of the people who gave me advice, well-meaning and acting from love though they were, have in lives decades longer than my own. It is not an easy thing to be told by another to be open to taking all kinds of jobs and to be told by that same person the next day–or even later in the same conversation–not to look at lesser work (as though the cost-benefit analysis hadn’t been done and done and done, and as though better jobs called back–not that lesser jobs did any better). And it is a challenge, indeed, to face with equanimity being told not to give up when many years and a mid- to high-three-digit job-application count are already on record, bespeaking a dogged determination in the face of no after no after no.

A common definition of insanity comes to mind. So does the idea of knocking at doors until knuckles bleed and the bones begin to fragment.

I suppose the point I’m making about Bartram’s essay–which, again, I enjoyed reading and found useful–is that what she discusses is far from confined to the academy. It’s a useful thing to note for more than one reason. Aside from being a reminder–as if one is needed–that the job market sucks from most angles, among others, it serves as a reminder that the ivory tower stands embodied in the world. Perhaps if it is able to resolve its problems, it might help make a start on those the rest of the planet faces.

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Class Report: SPCH 275, 18 April 2018

For the final meeting of the session, class was given largely to refinement of the final component of the course project. Student questions were entertained and comments made about work as appropriate.

Students are reminded that the final component of the Course Project is due before the end of day Saturday, 21 April 2018.

The class met at 1800 in Room 107 of the San Antonio campus, the better to use needed technology. The course roster listed five students enrolled, unchanged from last week; four attended, assessed informally. Class participation was as expected for the events of the day. No students attended Monday office hours.

On One of My Concerns as a Father

That I have a child, a daughter born in 2014, is not something of which I’ve made a secret–although I do not discuss her much online, to be sure. (When I do, I usually refer to her as “Ms. 8” for reasons those who know her and her parents will understand–and which were her mother’s idea, although I approve of it entirely.) And, as I am a parent and I try, with less success than I might like, to be engaged in my daughter’s deeds and doings, there are no few things that give me pause, that concern me greatly. One such is that she will end up having some of the same regrets that I do–not of things left undone, but of things done.

To explain, ungrateful as I know it will make me sound: I regret doing many of the things I have done, things that other people look back on as having been fun and worthwhile experiences. High school prom (on my mind because of the season as I write this and the things that come across my news feeds as a result of that season) is one example; I went to several, spent hundreds of dollars on each, and regret most every moment and every penny put to those ends, since they’ve done me not a bit of good, and I’d’ve been better off putting the time and effort represented to work or reading. Many of the parties I’ve attended–and, believe it or not, there’ve been more than a few–have been similar; while I did have some few that were good experiences, more of them resulted in nothing more than me waking up too late the next morning, head pounding from a hangover and withdrawal from my drug of choice (caffeine, of course). One, a New Year’s party, sticks out in my mind as being a particularly bad experience. Hell, even some of the book-buying I’ve done pains me to think back upon–and I read.

However it might be that I feel as I do–and I’ve heard quite a bit about it from many people across many years, thank you, so I need no more of it–I am worried that I will pass it on to my daughter despite any efforts I make against doing so. Young as Ms. 8 is as I write this, she is already able to see through at least some of the acting I do to be her father. (I tend to subscribe to the idea that we perform roles for one another, roles based on our understanding and experience and belief about who and what we ought to be to do the things that we are or should be doing.) She knows, for example, that I take delight in some of her “bad” behavior, even as I am obliged to rebuke her for it. (Wrong for all the right reasons Ms. 8 may be at times, but I still have to caution her against the wrong.) And so I find myself caught in the cleft fork of wanting to caution her away from doing things that I see are like to do her little good if any while at the same time knowing that she may well enjoy and remember fondly what I may not have and do not. Too, there is the fact that, owing to my overall orientation, I have little idea how to have the kind of fun many of the other people I know prize–but she seems poised to be the kind of person who delights in such things.

I know, of course, that my task is to support Ms. 8 in exploring who she is and to do what can be done to keep her safe while allowing her to take the risks and experience the consequences she needs to take and feel to grow into a person who will not need me to be with her. (I hope she will want me around, of course, but I also know the day will come when I cannot be with her as she might want, far off though I hope it is, and she needs to be ready for it.) I remain unsure how to do it, though, and I worry that I will fail.

Class Report: ENGL 135, 14 April 2018

After addressing questions from the previous meeting, discussion turned to concerns of revision, discussing correctness, clarity, concision, and euphony. Examples were examined, and student questions addressed.

Students were also reminded of upcoming assignments:

  • Discussions, due online before 0059 on 16 April 2018
  • Course Project: Final Draft, due online as a Word document before 0059 on 16 April 2018
  • Course Project, Reflective Postscript, due online as a Word document before 1159 on 21 April 2018

Submission guidelines for the assignments are in the course shell.

The class met as scheduled, at 0900 in Room 114 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster listed 13 students, unchanged since last class; five attended, assessed informally. Class participation was reasonably good. No students attended Monday office hours.