More about My Teaching

I have not exactly hidden the fact that I am continuing to teach despite my certainty that I will never have the kind of full-time teaching job I expected to have either as an undergraduate or a grad student. Many of the posts I make in this webspace are devoted to that end, in fact, such that listing them would be folly; they are easily enough found. And of the classes I have taught, the one I most often find myself teaching is second-semester composition, whether as a traditional English 102 or under some other name used by one school or another for purposes that are not always clear to me. Indeed, nine of the last twenty-one classes I’ve taught since returning to Texas (including the course in progress as of this writing) have been of such sort–more than any three other courses in that time combined.

A Site of Writing
The image is mine from several years back.

Teaching such classes takes up a fair bit of my time (though far less than it used to) and perhaps a larger part of my thoughts than it should. And some of those thoughts run back to when teaching was my primary job and I thought I’d be doing it as a career. Then, I made a point of writing samples of the assignments I asked of my students, offering them models to follow in putting together their own work. I’ve not been doing so in the past year or so, partly because I already have quite a few examples developed, and partly because, well, teaching’s a part-time job for me at this point, and I’m not sure I have anything better–or even else, really–to offer my students now. That I don’t still do so sometimes nags at me. I am still doing the work, and I still want to do well all the work I do; not working alongside my students seems somehow to be an admission of deliberately doing badly. Too, I feel my own skills in researched writing are decaying somewhat; I do not do much scholarship of any sort any more, tending more towards ruminations like this or my commentaries on the Tales after Tolkien Society blog. And because that makes me less good at what I’m teaching, it makes me less good a teacher, which sits ill.

I suppose the answer is to follow the course sequence my second-semester composition classes are facing, working through a nebulous topic selection process to generate a proposal and tentative outline before producing an annotated bibliography and generating three drafts of a paper and a presentation based on it. And I suppose my students would benefit from having not only the embedded model to follow, but also my comments about my process in putting such a paper together. It looks like I will be teaching second-semester composition again before the year is out, so even if it is late to help the students I have now, it may well be of use to those who will follow after them…

Teachers don’t make much. Care to help offset some of that?

A Rumination on the Rain

As I write this, the Hill Country town where I grew up and where I live again is in the midst of a long span of rain. We’ve had close to a week of it at this point, and we’re in for at least a few days more–and while a good rain is always welcome, it’d be nice to get a few things to dry out just a bit. As it is, mowing my yard’s going to be a two-and-a-half-hour job, and I’m far enough out of shape that I’ll not be good for much else on the day I do it. (That is my problem, though, not the rain’s.) More rain’s going to make it more of an annoyance, even if we still need it to replenish the aquifer and clean out the rivers and creeks around here.

View from the front porch at the office.
The picture is mine.

Rain here is a strange thing. In the full summer–and what we tend to have in late July and through August is a different thing than in May and June or September and October, while even our “winters” tend to be like the springs and even summers of other places I have lived–when rain comes, it comes in a fury, dumping flooding waters for twenty minutes or so and then stopping dead, allowing the wet ground to dry and make the air moist and heavy, while not doing much to keep the temperatures low. (Indeed, days of 90°+ temperatures and 90%+ humidity are not uncommon here, though not as pervasive as in southwest Louisiana, to be sure.) The kind of rain we’ve been getting, mostly light but punctuated emphatically with shortish spans of torrent from the sky, is more like what we get in winter–though it is far warmer, leaving things feeling like nothing so much as a bathroom half an hour after a shower. Drivers are driving worse, and peoples’ spirits seem dampened along with their clothes and just about everything else.

For me, though, the rain is usually something different. I drive decently well in it–or I think so, anyway, as much as I ever do. And I tend to have an easier time writing when water is falling from the sky outside. Leaving aside horrible dirty jokes rooted in ideas of Ouranous and Gaea–how else is Mother Earth impregnated?–I am often better able to think when the sky is grey and clouds descend to the ground in small, small bits. I usually sleep better, too, though I am given to understand such is the case for a lot of people. I am, I suppose, supposed to be where there is rain–not because I am so lugubrious as that, and hopefully not because I somehow accept that my place in the world is being pissed upon or subjected to the assaults of other fluids.

Or something like that.

Help me stay afloat?

Class Report: ENGL 135, 24 September 2018

Continuing on from the previous week, students were asked in discussion to practice annotated bibliography entries and to discuss presentations of ideas. They were also asked to produce a brief annotated bibliography and to submit a final pulse-check.

The course roster showed 21 students enrolled, a decline of six from last week; all but two participated in one or more online discussions during the week. An online office hour was held on Monday, 17 September 2018; no students attended.

Students are reminded that the third office hour will be tonight, Monday, 24 September 2018, at 6pm Central Daylight Time. Students are also reminded that the following assignments are due before the end of day (Mountain Daylight Time) on 30 September 2018:

  • Discussion Threads: The First Draft and Analyzing a Sample Argument (3 posts/thread, rubric online)
  • Course Project: First Draft (due as a Word document in APA format)

On Still Working at a For-Profit School

On 27 August 2018, I wrote here about my continuing, asymptotic disentanglement from academe. As I did, I made the note that “I acknowledge that there are critiques to be levied at my employment by a for-profit institution. I may well address them in another post to this webspace; for now, they would be a bit of a distraction.” This is the “another post” noted, the one in which I make some effort to address such critiques, although I recall having spoken to the issue previously. I cannot recall where, though, so this will have to do, at least for the moment and partially. I cannot envision all critiques, after all.

Yep, this is where I do it.
Image taken from the DeVry website, used for comment and critique
It seems appropriate.

One such critique that comes to mind is that, in working for a for-profit institution, I am complicit in the exploitation of the (broken) student loan system in play in the United States, particularly regarding the (non-traditional, academically and economically disadvantaged) population the institution serves. And I cannot deny that I am somewhat culpable. I do the work I am asked to do, and I accept money for doing so; I am part of the system that makes such things happen. But I do not get much of that money–more I will also note that I came into the job when I had few or no other prospects; as no few find, certain clusters of letters at the end of a name make many job searches fruitless. For me, the job was something of a desperation play, a stopgap measure that has ended up being less temporary than I had thought it would be–but one that still serves to help me address my own issues of student debt. (And I attended second-tier state schools with significant financial support, so mine is less than many others’–but it is still no small burden to bear.)

Perhaps that is not sufficient justification. Better, though, is that teaching at such a school does help me to reach out to its students. Typically, those enrolled at for-profit schools are those who have not been able to enroll in more traditional programs. Much is made about such students being hand-waved through on their way to credentials rather than taught; I work against such things, treating those students in much the same ways I have treated students at more traditional institutions. I expect them to attend to details and think through their implications, and I challenge the ideas they present (as well as the forms in which they make the presentations, partly because I am paid to, and partly because the students need to be doing things by choice and deliberately, rather than flailing about). They can do as well as any other students, and they deserve the same degree of rigor and challenge as do other students–and while I cannot attest to what does or does not happen in others’ classes, I know they get them in mine.

Again, I know there are other critiques that can be leveled at my work, both others of which I am aware and more which I am not. But I flatter myself that I am making things at least a little bit better through the work I do at DeVry.

It pays the bills, but I can always use more!

In Response to Francesca Gino

On 21 August 2018, Francesca Gino’s “Need More Self-Control? Try a Simple Ritual” appeared in the online Scientific American. Gino opens her piece by asserting a problem to address–lack of self-control, particularly as related to eating–and notes its persistent study by scholars and entrepreneurs. She then notes several previously attempted solutions to the problem and their deficiencies before pivoting to her central idea: ritual offers a path to self-control. The piece then offers a simple, working definition of ritual and references Gino’s previous work on rituals, explicating the methods and results of two studies she helped to conduct. A warning about over-reliance on ritual follows, succeeded by a brief explanation of how the observed effects may come to be. Gino’s piece concludes with connections to lived experience and a return to the chocolate cake mentioned in the piece’s opening, a closure that seems in good taste.

This comes up on a Google search for “ritual.”
I’m told it’s William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s 1884 The Youth of Bacchus,
and that it’s in the public domain.

I forget how Gino’s piece came to my attention, although I am likely to put it forward to my students as a useful example of expository writing; it moves well and reads easily, and if the conventions of citation are not those I am obliged to require of my pupils, they are excellently done within the context of the piece’s presentation. Aside from such use, though, and from allowing a groaner of a joke in its summary, the article has strangely stuck in my head.

Ritual is commonly associated with religious practice and with group identity, as Gino motions toward near the end of her article. I am not a person of faith, as I have pointed out, and it has been some time since I was part of a group other than my family that has been around long enough for rituals to develop. (And I seem to set aside quite a few of those my family practices, as well, much to my parents’ consternation at holidays.) Yet I am also, in the event, somewhat superstitious–perhaps not in the ways enumerated by Stevie Wonder, but still beholden to practices that have little real effect. I will not leave a cup of coffee, once poured, undrunk, for example, and I always leave the porch-light on when someone–anyone–who belongs in my house is away from it. (Admittedly, that last is useful at night.) And I am always sure that the last thing I say to those I love is that I love them–not that it would help them or me not hurt were it the last thing they heard me say.

I do find myself nagged by unease when I neglect to do such things, so perhaps I would be the kind of person who would benefit from enacting some small ritual before I eat. To develop one ex nihilo seems somehow silly, though, so I am not sure what kind I would employ. I am already far sillier than I ought to be, and I do not think anyone is well served by my being sillier yet.

Giving makes for a good ritual!

Class Report: ENGL 135, 17 September 2018

Continuing on from the previous week, students were asked in discussion to work through summarizing a source and investigate reliability of online sources. They were also asked to sit for an online APA quiz, to complete a “pulse check,” and to draft a topic proposal and tentative outline for their course project.

The course roster showed 27 students enrolled, a net gain of one from last week; most participated in one or more online discussions during the week. An online office hour was held on Monday, 10 September 2018; no students attended.

Students are reminded that the third office hour will be tonight, Monday, 17 September 2018, at 6pm Central Daylight Time. Students are also reminded that the following assignments are due before the end of day (Mountain Daylight Time) on 23 September 2018:

  • Discussion Threads: Presenting Ideas and Annotated Bibliography Practice (3 posts/thread, rubric online)
  • Course Project: Annotated Bibliography (due as a Word document in APA format)
  • Week 3 Pulse Check (due online)

In Response to Adam Harris

On 5 June 2018, Adam Harris’s “Here’s How Higher Education Dies” appeared in the online version of The Atlantic. In the piece, Harris makes the case that higher education, as an industry, has passed its peak and appears to be on a slow decline. He grounds his assertion in Bryan Alexander’s 2013 work, noting that Alexander’s predictions appear to be coming true and discussing reasons they seem to be so. Harris then explicates the problems to colleges and universities of declining enrollment (mergers and closures of programs and schools, further increasing adjunctification), as well as possible remedies (outreach to non-traditional students). He also notes that while some schools will be relatively insulated from coming changes, others will have to adapt to survive. Harris ends with a small gesture towards hope, citing Alexander’s own ideas about institutional viability, and the putative irony of institutions of learning suffering amid a glut of available information.

A typical view of the field.
Image taken from the State of Oregon, so I’m pretty sure it’s public domain.

It is true that Harris’s article took some time to find its way in front of me, and I accept that my comments about it will be affected by that delay. Too, they will be affected by my continuing disentanglement from academe–a process that is not complete (and will probably not be so long as I continue to benefit from my minimal engagement); I readily admit that my experience of higher education has left me with decided attitudes about the whole endeavor. But I do not think that higher education has reached its peak–perhaps a lesser peak on the way to its full summit. There is still too much reliance on the kind of credentialing higher education offers and too much resistance to that in enough areas that the kind of saturation “peak” seems to require when used in other arenas for it to apply, I think. And there is still more room for adjunctification, though I worry about pointing it out for fear of prompting it.

There is also still more understanding that there can be another way in education for it to be really “peak” (though I am not entirely happy about that phrasing, I’ll admit). Even in the online, “career-focused” class I am teaching now, with students who are explicitly and specifically working towards degrees so they meet requirements for jobs, I have students–and more than might be thought–who either know or are open to knowing the pleasure or learning for its own sake and of looking into areas of endeavor removed from their professional concerns. The adult and non-traditional students I teach, while knowing and acknowledging that some of what they are asked to do is asinine for any group of students or not appropriate for them as for 18-year-olds straight out of suburban secondary school, understand that what they study outside their majors is helpful for their lives outside their careers–whether as part of their putative civic engagement or their personal, non-remunerated enrichment. They still have some sense of education as an inherently worthy goal, whatever the grade in the course–at least some of them do.

Peak higher education is not a thing in itself, but a symptom of a greater disease, and that symptom has still not spread enough to kill the patient. Yet.

Help me get to my peak?

In Response to Anamnestes

On 19 August 2018, Anamnestes published “The Vegan Religion.” In the piece, Anamnestes discusses the results of Kalel’s admission of not wholly upholding veganism in her personal life, despite vlogging about it extensively. The author relates the admission to confessional aspects of religion, particularly Roman Catholicism, using the parallel to critique veganism as a religion and offering it something of a corrective for its fundamentalist tendencies. The author brings personal experience into play to help secure the parallel, making for an interesting piece with which to think and a useful comment on puritanical strains that appear in unexpected places.

Still from Anamnestes
It’s not a live video link; it’s an image of it taken from Anamnestes’s post.
Seems to be what the author’s discussing.

Anamnestes is another blogger whom I know in real life and whom I esteem greatly. (I am using the blogging name instead of the meatspace name out of respect for the person; if the person wants the words under a pseudonym, then I will discuss them under such.) The current piece adds to that esteem, certainly, not least in providing a perspective I had not considered–although it is one that makes quite a bit of sense once pointed out. Being from central Texas as I am, I read “religion” as a term as bound up with particular strains of evangelical Christianity and their oft-annoying proselytizing–something often associated with vegan and other communities that ostensibly orient themselves around ethical and health issues. And, with that connection established in my mind, the rest slotted into place nicely.

That I had not made the connection before being prompted is, perhaps, an artifact of my own background and history. Though I have been a member of a church, I have never been particularly observant–and to claim to be a person of faith now would be disingenuous at best. I am not, therefore, the sort of person who is likely to see religious parallels–which makes work as a medievalist more interesting, since one of the old standbys is to look at medieval art as a gloss of or commentary on religious doctrine or material. I can do it, of course, but it is not a first option for me, something I am sure that my work elsewhere more than suggests.

Reading Anamnestes’ post, I find myself wondering what it would be like to have that kind of grounding–not because I long for it in itself, certainly, but because there are things it would make easier for me, professionally and likely personally, and I am lazier than I ought to be. And perhaps I am a bit envious of the access to community such offers, even as I am repulsed by the kind of reactions discussed in the post and what prompted it. With that, I am more familiar than is comfortable (though I admit to deserving some of it, if not most; I know well what I did and who I was). In reading, though, I find that I would like to be more familiar with some other issues, as well–even as I know I will not be.

Preachin’ ain’t easy–but giving is!


Class Report: ENGL 135, 10 September 2018

While it might seem somewhat odd to offer a report of activities for a class that does not actually meet, some running commentary seems in order for even a wholly online class. To that end, the following:

During the first week of the session, students were asked to introduce themselves and to work through developing a topic for the session-long course project. Instructor comments on the latter were offered in the hopes of prompting deeper consideration and more engaged, authentic work.

The course roster showed 26 students enrolled; 19 participated in online discussion during the week. An online office hour was held on Tuesday, 4 September 2018, adjusted from the normal Monday meeting due to a holiday; one student attended.

Students are reminded that the second office hour will be tonight, Monday, 10 September 2018, at 6pm Central Daylight Time. Students are also reminded that the following assignments are due before the end of day (Mountain Daylight Time) on 16 September 2018:

  • Discussion Threads: Summarizing Sources and Internet Reliability (3 posts/thread, rubric online)
  • Course Project: Research Proposal and Outline (due as a Word document in APA format)
  • Information Literacy and APA Format Quiz (due online)
  • Week 2 Pulse Check (due online)

In Yet Another Response to Eric Weiskott

On 19 August 2018, Eric Weiskott’s “Formalism Is Historicism” appeared on his own website. In the piece–a short, fast, easy read–Weiskott notes reasons for addressing the terms in his title before offering quick-and-dirty definitions for both formalism and historicism–the first looks at literature as literature, while the latter looks at literature as a result of other circumstances. He then asserts that the two approaches, often held to be in opposition, are essentially the same, grounding his assertion in a series of readings he references at the end of his piece and the simple fact of his study of English poetry, which itself abrogates the division between formalism and historicism. He offers what he calls speculation to conclude the piece, noting that the perceived tensions between formalism and historicism are fundamentally internal political matters and that the two categories cannot be defined except in terms of each other.

vase face
Weiskott uses this image in his own post. It seemed appropriate to use it in a post discussing his.

This is not the first time I’ve written in response to Weiskott, to be sure. (Witness here and here.) As I’ve noted, it’s a pleasure to read what he writes, and it’s more of a pleasure to see his working around concepts that his students–whom he obliquely references in the opening of his piece–will likely have to grapple with, themselves. Seeing their professor still working with ideas and how to better understand them–for those of his students who do see it; not all students research their professors–is likely to help the students handle their own difficulties in handling materials. It should help them feel less foolish for not understanding; so holds one line of thought.

When I’ve taught, though, I’ve always worried about exposing my own uncertainties and failures of understanding–in part because I remember being a student, expecting professors to know, and feeling my respect for them lessen when they did not. (I still did what I was supposed to do, of course, but there is a difference between compliance and enthusiasm I believe many people understand.) I have tended to expect people to react like I do (which I know is a failure of thought, and I try to do better, but I know I have much more to do in that regard), and so I have tended to think my own students will react to me as I did to my own professors. While I am getting over it at this point, I do still have concerns with my legitimacy at the front of the classroom, and I admit to not being brave enough to expose myself quite so openly as Weiskott seems to do. (And I am aware of the irony of writing such a thing in a venue students have told me–and occasionally shown me–they peruse.) What I arrive at, then, is that Weiskott is braver at the front of the classroom than I–as I am sure many are. Whether I will continue to be in the classroom long enough for that to matter, though, is an open question.

Enjoy reading what I write? Help me do more of it!