Another (!) Rumination on Teaching

I wanted to be a teacher when I was the age my daughter is now. I went through high school thinking I would be a teacher. I went through most of my undergraduate study thinking I would be a teacher, though the subject I thought to teach would change. I went into and through graduate school thinking I would be a teacher, if at a different level. I spent my early career years–and that’s a strange phrase for me–thinking I would be a teacher. I’ve spent the past few years clinging to that thought, holding tenuously to the notion that I should spend at least part of my time at the front of a classroom, trying to help bring others along.

the hobbit work GIF
Image from Giphy.com, used for commentary. Clearly.

At this point, though, my grip is slipping–and not because I am holding on with one hand to keep my bloated self from falling into a pit from which there is little chance of escape. No, it is because I am struggling to hold what I realize has been an increasing weight off of the ground, one that I have been carrying for years in no small part because I have been too stubborn to put it down. I have tried to do well at the work, tried to be responsible and responsive, tried to make some difference. And perhaps I have done those things in some small way; I do, from time to time, hear from one student or another, and I am gratified by it.

More, though, I have made excuses for remaining in the college classroom, as a glance back across this webspace will make clear. I have tried to justify my continued presence in a system that has made clear it has no permanent place for me, even as I have found what seems to be a permanent place outside it (and one that does, in fact, allow me to make good use of the skills and expertise I developed during my formal education, if perhaps not as I might have expected and not as well as others with more focused training might have done). And it is clear to me that the excuses no longer work; it is time for me to put the weight down.

Given the academic labor market (about which, perhaps, this and this), I am certain that others will soon pick up the weight I set down. And it is possible that I will need to pick it up again, myself, in time to come. But for now, so far as I can see, I am ready to leave it. I am ready to let go my grip and finally straighten a back that has bent at such work, usually hunched in a chair in front of a computer not unlike what results in this present piece of work, drafting things that will not be read. But at least such work as this is work that I enjoy, and I can no longer say the same for what I do in the classroom, despite years of making a go at it.

Thirteen years of it is enough of a sample, I think.

Even now, I remain thankful for what you give.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 47: Royal Assassin, Chapter 22

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series soon.


The chapter that follows, “Burrich,” opens with a brief note on Lady Patience, the former Queen-in-Waiting of the Six Duchies. It moves thence to Fitz waking somewhat confusedly in bed with Molly; they evidently had a tryst, of which Fitz remembers nothing. Molly departs his chambers, and Fitz responds thereafter to a summons from Chade.

Commande - Lady Patience pour FlorenceIl va encore me falloir quelques essaies avant de maitriser correctement les peaux foncées à l’aquarelle, elle a l’air bien blanche quand même. Merci pour cette commande, j’aime beaucoup ce personnage et la...
Commande – Lady Patience pour Florence by Aadorah on Tumblr.com
Image used for commentary

Fitz reports in detail to Chade and, with the older man’s premission, voices his suspicions of Regal’s plotting. Chade accepts the explanation as a possibility and affirms that he will work from his own resources to confirm or deny the explanation. He also voices concern that his secrecy is not as secure as once it was.

In the coming days, Fitz is wary, particularly of the Skilled ones Serene, Justin, and Will. And on one day, he is summoned in haste to the stables. Burrich has returned, injured and thinking that messages have gone before him. They have not arrived, and he has Fitz help him to report to Shrewd. The Fool greets them and, seeing Burrich’s condition, moves to assist. At length, Burrich is admitted to Shrewd’s chambers and reports of the difficulties that faced Verity’s party along their path, including a curiously well-disciplined and -equipped group of bandits that focused their attentions on Verity near Blue Lake.

Shrewd dismissed Burrich, who is taken aback by his king’s condition, and Fitz takes Burrich to his own room to tend to him. He goes out in search of medicines, leading him to Patience. She quizzes Fitz as she makes ready to tend to Burrich herself. Burrich rouses during her ministrations and argues with her, but relents and accepts her care. Kettricken arrives and lends her own supplies to the efforts, the specifics revealing that she is pregnant–and Fitz begins to worry for the child yet unborn.

I once again find it hard not to reread the text against the current political climate, I really do. But even if I am successful in not doing so, Hanlon’s Razor comes to mind as a factor in the current chapter, one which Chade appears to prefer as an explanation and that Fitz rejects. Said Razor is the warning against attributing to malice what stupidity can easily explain; that is, if someone could be ignorant or a jerk, that person is probably ignorant. It is an ultimately optimistic explanation of things, assuming that people will be good if they but know what the good is.

Experience and a quick glance at the world suggest that such an assumption is a dangerous one. While some might argue that making any assumption is fraught, and there is merit in such an argument, it is also the case that an assumption always has to be made about how a given person will re/act–and that it always is so, even if tacitly. And when a person has demonstrated a tendency towards being venial or malevolent, it is far safer to assume that the person will continue to do so than that they will not.

I remain thankful for what you give.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 46: Royal Assassin, Chapter 21

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.


The next chapter, “Dark Days,” opens with a rumination on the political future of the Mountain Kingdom during the conflict between the Six Duchies and the Red Ships. It moves on to treat the continued tension surrounding Duke Brawndy of Bearns, whom Regal is slighting. Kettricken meets with him, showing him great honor and mollifying him substantially in doing so. But the slight from Regal remains.

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Image from Prophets become Warriors, Dragons Hunt as Wolves on Tumblr, here
Image used for commentary

The slight is compounded when, days later, Brawndy is summoned to Shrewd’s chambers and afterwards departs with news of no forthcoming aid. Kettricken intercedes, acting on her own initiative and in her own prerogative to gift Brawndy with significant monetary aid. Fitz finds himself obliged to pay court to Brawndy’s daughter, Celerity, and he observes as the Bearns party makes its way away from Buckkeep.

After, Fitz calls on Shrewd. Following an awkward physical encounter, Fitz finds himself serving as a Skill-bridge between Shrewd and Verity. He is made aware again of Shrewd’s bodily condition, and he is privy to Shrewd’s messages to Verity–tidings which he vehemently denies. Verity seems to take his side and pleads to have Fitz tended against his exertions.

In the wake of those exertions, both Shrewd and Fitz are exhausted. Regal barges in and takes Shrewd in hand, bidding the Fool, who is customarily present with Shrewd, to tend to Fitz. The Fool does so, staying with Fitz for a while for their mutual safety. When the Fool leaves to retrieve medicine for Fitz, the Skilled Serene and Justin enter Fitz’s room with ill intent. They psychically assail him, and Nighteyes psychically leaps to his defense. The Fool’s arrival dissuades any further action, and Serene and Justin depart in anger, leaving Fitz to his pain.

There is much that can be said about Fitz’s construction as a liminal figure. He operates in several grey areas: as a royal bastard, as a sanctioned assassin, as an informal advisor, as someone who is and is not adept with multiple magics. His liminality in those respects, while allowing him more freedom of motion than many other characters might have, also serves as a set of in-milieu reasons to hold him in low regard. He can be read–and perhaps should be read–as problematizing many of the traditional aspects of fantasy literature. He does not only nuance the warrior-hero that pervades Tolkienian-tradition works (despite the primacy of Frodo and Samwise), but he calls into question the stability of such categories. Fitz is far from the only character to do so, of course; there are frustrations of archetypes even in such characters as Malory’s Arthur and the Classical Hercules. But fantasy literature tends to operate in terms of such types (with a few notable exceptions, as Shiloh Carroll and others discuss far more eloquently than I am apt to do), and having such a character as Fitz, who almost fulfills the demands of many types while conforming to none of them, remains, to my mind, a refreshing thing.

Your ongoing support is kindly appreciated.

Sample Assignment Response: Analyzing Debatable Claims

Another of the assignments students are asked to do in ENGL 135 in the November 2019 session, following a course redesign, is an analysis of debatable claims. (A previous assignment is discussed here.) Students are asked to “select a TED Talk that presents a persuasive argument on a debatable issue,” record its identifying information, and draft a two- to three-page (so 650- to 975-word) summary that addresses a number of points evocative of other classes’ rhetorical analysis. To continue my practice of providing models for students to follow, I offer what appears below:

https://pi.tedcdn.com/r/talkstar-photos.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/41dce1f7-2417-4999-845e-97727063eac8/IlluminatedManuscripts_textless.jpg?h=200
Image taken from the thumbnail on the TED talk treated in the present sample, here, used for commentary

As with earlier sample work, the first task is to select a subject. To do so for the present sample, I went to TED.com and ran a simple search for one of my major areas of interest, using the search term “medieval.” Doing so yielded 92 results, which is a larger set than admits of effective parsing within the confines of the session and its demands. Accordingly, I restricted myself to the first page of results returned–which, at 30, was still a fair number. Given that the assignment calls for only two to three pages of work (plus title and references pages), I determined that the talk I would treat should be a shorter one. I was fortunate that two of the first three results returned fit that criterion, and I decided to treat the less formal of the two, since I want to make my work as fun for myself as I can reasonably do.

With a subject selected, I went ahead and set up my document, stubbing out a title page, main text, and references page and ensuring that the document as a whole was set to double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman type with one-inch margins on letter-sized paper. I also inserted running heads and page numbers as appropriate. I also made sure to enter an APA-style reference entry for my selected TED talk to make sure that it got done.

To help keep myself oriented in what would come, I copied and pasted the series of questions from the University’s assignment materials into my document. I then highlighted it in green so that I would remember to remove it later; I tend to give myself writing targets (such as theses for more formal work) in my documents, coloring them thusly so I know what I need to write towards and that I need to get rid of it later. It is a method I recommend, though I know others’ results will vary.

That done watched the talk, doing so twice. The first time was simply to get a feel for the talk as a whole. The second, though, I took notes, using the assignment questions as a guide. It made for somewhat jerky watching, to be fair, but it did allow me to get a basic outline down of the sample assignment.

With my notes ready, I began drafting. The first pass consisted mostly of expanding my notes into cohesive, coherent sentences and paragraphs, as well as adding introduction and conclusion. Revision ensued thence, focusing mainly on smoothing out transitions among materials–I opted to retain the order of the assignment’s questions in large part, mostly for ease, though I did alter their groupings somewhat–and on making the language accessible to student readers (as determined by Flesch-Kincaid grade level).

All that done, I reviewed my draft to make sure it adheres to usage standards that will be applied to student work. Once done with that, I rendered the draft accessible; it appears below, iteration of my continued hope to be of use to others: G. Elliott Sample Debatable Claim Analysis.

I still continue to appreciate support for drafting new teaching materials.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 45: Royal Assassin, Chapter 20

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.


The next chapter, “Mishaps,” opens with accounts of the hardening of attitudes and Chade’s findings on an expedition to the Outislands. It moves to Fitz calling on Shrewd; the latter has the Fool serve tea that contains an addictive herb, upon which the Fool comments acerbically. Regal soon inserts himself into the meeting, taking the chance to upbraid Fitz with his manufactured financial crisis. As Shrewd slips into addled delirium, Regal intensifies the personal attack on Fitz, taunting him to physical assault; Fitz stops himself and excuses himself from Shrewd’s presence, beginning an anxious wait for a summons from Chade.

Fool by FloorSteinz on DeviantArt, image used for commentary

When the summons comes, Fitz answers it with many questions for his mentor. They are uncomfortable questions, and Chade’s replies to trust in the system and the wisdom of the nation’s leadership do not satisfy. Nor yet does the revelation that Chade has been providing certain chemicals to Shrewd for reasons that he refuses to discuss. Nor still does the line of reasoning to which Chade leads Fitz, that the Red-Ship Raiders want only to instill terror, that Verity’s mission to the Elderlings is their only hope.

Fitz’s narrative resumes days later, when Duke Branwdy of Bearns arrives at Buckkeep. He describes his experience of the necessary festivities to welcome the duke and his entourage, as well as the calculated slights offered them by Regal. Too, he has some contact with Celerity that makes him uncomfortable.

After the welcoming dinner, Fitz retires to his chambers, where the Fool awaits him with a sensitive question. Fitz turns to strike the Fool in his anger, only to see that the Fool has already been battered–by Regal’s thugs. As a chastened Fitz makes to tend the Fool’s injuries, he asks why the Fool asks after whether he has fathered a child; the Fool explains as he is able, which is not necessarily clear to Fitz. He also warns Fitz that attempts on Kettricken are likely before making his exit.

After the Fool leaves, Fitz calls on Molly. He asks her if she is with child, and she denies it–but quizzes him on what he would do if she had affirmed being pregnant. Fitz has no good answer and stammers through a poor one. Molly rebukes him for it, using Patience and Burrich as an example of what she means; Patience hates Burrich, she reveals, because she had loved and been spurned by Burrich in favor of his sworn service. The revelation gives Fitz pause and more to consider than he had thought before.

The strangeness of gender norms and expectations comes to mind in reading the present chapter. Fitz is, admittedly, not in a position to have much of a sense of family, given his circumstances, but even so, the dichotomy between his perception of service’s demands and Molly’s protestations about family are striking. There is more to untangle in them that I can give space to here–but there is always another venue for such discussions.

Molly’s protestations line up reasonably neatly with things I have spent a perhaps unfortunate amount of time considering, given my own history trying and failing to make a career of academe. I am recovering now, but earlier in my life, I spent a lot of time trying to be something…other than I am, thinking it somehow of paramount importance that I do. I fear I much neglected my family in making the attempt. Even now, when I give my time to outside concerns in the community, I worry that I am misspending my time. I like to think that I am doing some good in the world, I am told that I am, and I know that my daughter needs to have an example of a parent who tries, at least, to work to the betterment of the community. But I also know that the time I spend on such things is time I am not with my wife and daughter, whom I profess to love; how much love do I show them, being away? At least when I am secluded off, working on some freelance project or another, I am contributing to the support of the household, but when I work with the local PTO or band boosters, I cannot claim such a thing.

It is never an easy calculus to figure out, and my skills at math are less than they perhaps ought to be. But, as Chade points out in the chapter, “Thinking is not always…comforting. It is always good, but not always comforting.” And I have much on which to think.

It’s my birthday, precious. Send me a gift?

 

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 44: Royal Assassin, Chapter 19

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series soon.


The following chapter, “Messages,” opens with a gloss of Verity’s expedition–ostensibly to seek military aid from the Mountain Kingdom, but in truth to seek the Elderlings of old–setting out. It moves to Fitz considering the time between Verity being given permission for the quest and setting out on it; having a task enlivens Verity, as many notice with no small approval. Verity sets tasks for Fitz, as well, and remarks upon the ineptitude of the other Skill-users that are set to his service.

Marc Simonetti’s Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb on DeviantArt, used for commentary;
the scene’s from the earlier book, but it appears to have played out again…

After Verity’s party departs, Fitz has a few good days, though he marks the potential for problems that emerges almost immediately upon Verity’s departure. He also notes that word of Verity’s true mission spread quickly, and Regal has turned it to ridicule. Fitz also marks that Chade is unusually distant, perhaps as a result of aging working upon him.

The wary peace in Fitz’s life is broken by news of another Forging, one that should have been prevented by forces that were supposed to be in place but had been reallocated due to a putative lack of funds. At Verity’s Skilled suggestion, Fitz returns to Verity’s chambers, finding they have already been searched to an uncertain end; while Fitz retrieves items at Verity’s bidding, Kettricken enters, and they confer about his absence. They also confer about the irregularities in messaging, and Kettricken arrives quickly at both the conclusion of Regal’s perfidy and a burning desire to redress it directly. Fitz manages to dissuade her from rash action, and Kettricken departs to see to what she can.

After she does, Fitz goes to the stables, thinking to find ease in his old childhood haunt. He comes across a scene in which an inland noble is attempting to buy horses from Regal, who has no authority to sell them. Fitz manages to defuse the situation, but it reveals to him just how quickly Regal is acting to undercut and usurp authority.

Fitz makes to return to his chambers, but he is intercepted by a message from Kettricken, who bids him attend on her. After freshening up a bit, he does so, and Kettricken bids him call upon Shrewd before noting her own experience with doing so. Regal had claimed that Verity withdrew forces from Bearns, effectively ceding territory to the Red-Ship Raiders; Fitz denies the idea, but he hears Kettricken when she notes that Shrewd is effectively in Regal’s thrall.

It is damned hard not to read the chapter against present political circumstances, and I have to caution myself that there is corruption in all groups, in all times, and in all places; the only thing special about the times in which I live is that I live in them, and that is not so special as such a statement might make it seem. But there do seem to be parallels between the present chapter and the surrounding realities, and I cannot help but notice them–or comment on them, as should be obvious.

One of them that comes out as I think on it is the issue of the improper sale at the stables. It is clear that a power-play is in progress, and the solution of papering it over by following forms and procedures seems…unsatisfactory, in the novel as in the enfolding world. But “legal” and “right” are not often the same, and they never have been, so it should not be a surprise to see it in fiction.

Tonight, I play again. Help me buy some reeds?