Sample Assignment Response: A Reflective Postscript for ENGL 112 at DeVry University

To conclude from earlier work (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), I will carry out the assignment my students are asked to complete for their final week of the session: a brief reflective postscript. Considering work that has been done and what work is yet to be done is a useful thing, and I nourish the hope that the example I might offer will help my students and others do find such use in their own work.

Memory is a tricky thing.
Image from Psychology Today.

For the exercise, students are asked to address a series of University-provided prompts in short paragraphs that should total some two pages of text when typed in double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman on letter-sized paper with one-inch margins. The prompts ask students to consider their work and advancement during the course, especially as pertains to the commentary essay of the last few weeks of class. It is a fairly common exercise, both at the University and in colleges more generally, so it is likely students will encounter it again–and, as noted, reflection is good practice, in any event.

For my own work, I began by setting up a document in line with the expressed formatting standards. That done, I copied the prompts over from the University into the document, highlighting them in green so I could easily see what I would be addressing and would remember to delete the copy-over before completing my work.

At that point, I moved directly into drafting my responses, considering my answers to the questions posed as I went along. The questions are open-ended, but not so open-ended that they demand much delimiting. As such, answering them proved relatively easy to do–which makes sense, given the time I’ve spent on the project reflected upon and its topic.

The content made ready, I deleted the imported prompts and reviewed my document for style and mechanics. After making the adjustments that needed making, I put the document into an accessible format, which I present here: G. Elliott Sample Reflective Postscript. May it and its predecessors prove of benefit now and in time to come!

This session’s done, but other classes await; help me help them, too!

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In Response to Noah Smith

On 26 November 2018, Noah Smith’s “America Is Poorer Than It Thinks” appeared on Bloomberg.com. In it, Smith articulates prevailing definitions of poverty–absolute poverty, determined by government figures, and relative poverty, determined by standing relative to the local median income–before arguing in favor of material in/security as articulated by Maslow in his hierarchy of needs. Smith offers examples of Maslovian material insecurity and extrapolates from them based on others’ research. Smith concludes with the assertion that a better, more complete definition of poverty such as that deriving from Maslow’s ideas can help in addressing poverty, which developed nations ought to do.

When the wallet looks like this…
Image from Getty.

I’m familiar with Maslow and his hierarchy of needs from the coursework I did to earn teaching certification in those long-ago days when I thought I’d be at the front of a high school classroom for my profession. As such, the idea that insecurity about basic physical needs could inform a definition of poverty seems sound to me–but I’ll admit to not being an economist. If such an idea holds, though, then it seems that Smith’s central assertion is correct; if poverty is insecurity regarding material needs, then many, many more people are impoverished than income alone would indicate. In my own case, working one full-time job, one part-time job, a contract gig, freelancing, and still not making enough that I can afford usable health insurance coverage or put back enough money that I can afford to be out of work for very long at all, the definition fits, even though I am aware that matters could be far worse than they are.

And that leads to another point, one on which Smith does not touch, though he motions that way. One of the things, at least in my part of the world, that prevents many people from seeking help is not so much pride as a sense that asking would indicate ingratitude for what is already had, that things are not worse than they are. Folks above the poverty line, even if only by a bare margin, know they are not “impoverished,” at least in that narrowly technical sense, so they do not seek assistance, even though there is no measure by which they are doing well. Less bad is still bad, but the way things seem currently constructed makes such matters an either/or proposition, and many people feel themselves on the wrong side of it who might not if they had a better rubric by which to assess themselves and their situations. It would not be a panacea, to be sure; there would still be people who would worry that they are not badly enough off that they ought to ask for a hand up. But they might at least act from a better idea of how matters stand, which would help.

I could use a hand staying further away from poverty. Your contribution is welcome.

Sample Assignment Response: A Commentary Essay for ENGL 112 at DeVry University

To continue on from earlier work (here, here, here, here, here, and here), I will do more to round out the assignment sequence expected of the students in ENGL 112: Composition and develop the assignment students in the class are asked to do for their seventh week: a finalized commentary paper. I continue to hope that, despite the errors that are in any work, what I do will help my students and others to better understand what they are asked to do and so help them do it better.

Keep on doing it.
Image from tenor.com.

For the exercise, students are asked to revise their work from the previous week as needed and to add to it the remaining bulk of their papers, bringing their commentaries to a full five pages (1500 to 1750 words) plus title page and references list.  To complete it, I began by opening the document I’d made for last week’s exercise and saving it again as a new file for the final. (Keeping the earlier version separate allows for more radical revision in some circumstances.) Looking over it again, as it had been a few days since I had last done, so, I noted that I still had not settled on a thesis because I was still puzzling through my issue. I noted also that I had addressed appropriation but not appreciation; it was to the latter that I set myself.

I picked up writing where I had left off, moving directly into drafting as I thought through the issue and angle I had set for myself in the earlier work. As I drafted, too, I was able to determine a thesis, which I inserted into the usual place for such statements in first-year composition papers–the end of the introductory paragraph–before ensuring that connection to it sufficed throughout the rest of the text. I also made sure I offered the kind of conclusion to the paper–not filling out the repetitive “tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em, tell ’em, and tell ’em what you told ’em” model, but moving ahead from the thesis–I want to see from my students and, indeed, from most of the writing I read.

The content made ready, I reviewed my document for style and mechanics. After making the adjustments that needed making, I put the document into an accessible format, which I present here: G. Elliott Sample Commentary Final. I hope it will help others.

Help me keep doing this, please!

On Reading a Nearly Local Paper

I have noted in another place that my wife and I started taking the main San Antonio newspaper, the Express-News, not long before the recent US Thanksgiving holiday. In that other place, I’ve taken to doing with the Express-News what I used to do with the New York Times, back when I lived in The City and had subscription access to that newspaper through my then-institution or through that shrine to human knowledge, the New York Public Library.

If there is a temple at which I might pray, this might well be it.
Image from nypl.org.

The thing is, I do not live in San Antonio. I work there, currently part-time, as I think I’ve made clear (here, for only one recent example), and my brother and his family live there, but I do not. My wife does not. As such, the Express-News is not my local paper. And if it is the case, as I’ve elsewhere noted, that part of the reason for reading a newspaper in the current environment of rapidly produced, rapidly accessed media is in aligning with a community, then my taking the Express-News instead of the six-days-a-week main newspaper of my hometown, or the weeklies in the town and the county of which it is the seat, says something about how I view myself.

San Antonio is the seventh most populous city in the United States, per the city’s website as of 30 November 2018, although it does not, in many cases, act like a large city. It does not have the self-importance of New York City, to be sure, nor the high profile of Los Angeles or Chicago. It does not have the self-aggrandizing tendencies of even smaller cities such as Austin (which, given the state capitol and several other things less polite to name, appears to have an inferiority complex), nor has it the social cachet of Dallas/Ft. Worth or Houston. Yet it still exerts substantial influence on the nation, hosting some of the best trauma- and burn-treatment centers on the planet, as well as the US Air Force’s Basic Training Command. Surprisingly, it also serves as a center of medieval studies, with the online version of the Annotated Chaucer Bibliography hosted at UTSA and the current-to-this-writing Chaucer Bibliographer, Dr. Stephanie Amsel, a graduate of the same institution.

Knowing such things, what it might mean that I align myself to San Antonio, as opposed to, say, my hometown is something I might guess at, but none of us see ourselves clearly in mirrors. There is always some defect in the surface, some impurity in the air, some imperfection in our very eyes that prevents a view as good as we might hope to have. I do not think it prudent to analyze myself in such a way. But I imagine that others might take a turn at doing so; I wonder what the biographical tidbit my subscription betokens might do to add to such a critique.

Help me keep producing content; send some money my way. Think of it as a holiday gift.

Sample Assignment Response: A Commentary Rough Draft for ENGL 112 at DeVry University

To continue on from earlier work (here, here, here, here, and here), I will go further along the assignment sequence expected of the students in ENGL 112: Composition and develop the assignment students in the class are asked to do for their sixth week: a draft of a commentary paper. I continue to hope that my efforts will assist in my students’ work and others’ to write better and help still others to do the same.

From teachingenglish.org.uk, which seems reasonably appropriate for discussing discussion in a college English class…

For the assignment, students are asked to generate the first three pages (excluding title page and references) of a five-page commentary essay–in effect, a position paper of the sort I’ve taught in one form or another before (here, here, here, and here, among others). Introduction, thesis, and an at-least-cursory overview of current discussion of the topic are requested, as is the beginning of the argument’s development. More will follow, of course, but three pages should be enough to establish the idea to be borne out, to provide it context, and to start developing it. Additionally, the project is a continuation of last week’s work, so what was done previously should still fit the current purpose.

To begin my response to the exercise, I opened my proposal and summary from the previous week. I also opened a new document, formatting it for submission; I set up a title page, main text, and references list, putting the whole into double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman type with one-inch margins on letter-sized paper. The title page, running heads, and page numbers were set as they ought to be, while the internal title and references note were centered horizontally, and lines for references set up with half-inch hanging indentations.

With the formatting set up, I began to bring things into the new document from the old. The specific issue, the balance of appropriation and appreciation in my topic, was the first to come over; although not a thesis, as such, I copied it twice, highlighting the second in green and positioning it to serve as a moving target as I developed further materials. I also stubbed out space in which to position the thesis to come, as well as for some items I knew from the earlier work that I would want to put in place: definitions of terms relevant to the discussion. Those were highlighted in teal to remind me to attend to them.

From there, I moved to fill in context for my discussion, giving a description of my topic. I looked through earlier work done in the present session to begin with, since I could reasonably include that material in my current work without trouble.  Some details in that line were forthcoming, and I was happy to incorporate them into my work to offer background. I supplemented them with my own experience, as well, since I have it to bring to bear.

A passable attempt at an introduction started, I moved to insert my relevant definitions, working from the two sources identified in the previous exercise. Citations pulled earlier also made their ways into the appropriate part of the paper, developing a short references list. I found that I needed more material for my definitions to make sense, so I ran another search for material in Academic Search Complete and found a particularly useful piece, which I incorporated similarly to the other pieces I’d noted.

It also occurred to me that I would need to incorporate primary source materials into my project. Knowing that I would be making use of it–a thing cannot be discussed without reference to that thing, particularly in a scholarly context–I incorporated the primary source into my references list. And with that done, I used the materials to offer an overview from which to conduct further discussion.

With context reasonably established, it came time to begin to reason out the argument and to work towards a thesis. When I entered the project, I did not know how the matter would fall out, so I began writing with the intent to learn as well as to convey information and understanding to my audiences. And I had to address what I saw as a glaring issue; it seemed to need doing, and it seemed to emerge well from the way in which I had established context. Too, it allowed me to meet the requirements of the exercise and position myself to undertake the next.

The content made ready, I reviewed my document for style and mechanics. After making the adjustments that needed making and eliminating highlighted passages, I rendered the document into an accessible format, which I present here: G. Elliott Sample Commentary Draft. May it, like its predecessors, be helpful!

I continue to appreciate your support as I develop yet more material for my students and others to use to improve their own.

In Response to Cooper and Marx

On 9 November 2018, Mark Garrett Cooper and John Marx’s “Why We Love to Hate English Professors” appeared in the online Chronicle of Higher Education. In the piece, Cooper and Marx argue that prevailing disdain for English as an academic discipline–depicted in the article, as one commentator (unoso) notes, as largely equivalent to literary studies–emerges from professorial myopia and self-centeredness. They do so though noting contemporary screeds against English departments’ tendencies to position themselves as insidiously interdisciplinary before moving into a gloss of the recent historical circumstances that have conduced to the departments’ attempts to broaden their sphere of influence amid conflicting demands placed upon them. The authors move on to note the fallacies of the various approaches take to solve the problems of English departments (including an acknowledgement that there are multiple lines of study within English programs already) and conclude with a relatively weak call to collaboration that ultimately reads unsatisfyingly.

The image comes from the article to which I respond. It seems fitting.
It is also Martin Elfman’s originally, and is used here for commentary.

There is some substantiation for the authors’ claim that English departments tend to see themselves as something like the centers of university study. As both the authors and one commentator on the article, BrainyPirate, motions towards, English is one of the few common areas of study, although the Cooper and Marx note that the commonality is diminishing. They echo Timothy Carens’s 2010 College English article, “Serpents in the Garden: English Professors in Contemporary Film and Television,” which notes, among others, that the experience of first-year composition is one of the few commonplaces across majors and colleges. As such, per Carens, English classes can be used synecdochally for college as a whole, accounting for the prevalence of English professors in media. Since media tends to reflect the tastes of those with disposable time and income to consume it (i.e., college students and those not long out of college, in common conception), those professors are often figured as antagonistic if not predatory. In addition to some scholarly justification for figuring English as the center of the university, then, there is also some explanation for the prevailing disdain or distaste for those who would be scholars of it. In effect, Cooper and Marx are correct–though they are not new in making their assertion.

The thing that gives me cause to wonder, though, is that the same does not hold true for math professors. They are not so roundly disdained as English professors, though sitting for college math classes is at least as common an exercise as sitting for English classes is, math is seen as a thing people “just aren’t good at” as much as formal English is, the kind of math typically associated with college math classes is seen as perhaps less vital to daily life than even literary study is (I see signs bragging about it being “Another day I didn’t use algebra,” but never boasting of “Another day I didn’t read”). There is less romanticism about math professors, I find, and less a concept that they are threatening–though I will note that the only professors I have ever seen come to blows were math professors, save for those who taught combat arts (but the latter fought in a contest setting, while the former brawled in the hallway).

I am not saying math professors should operate under an onus. They should not, any more than English professors should. It is simply strange to me that they do not, when others do.

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Sample Assignment Response: A Topic Proposal and Summary for ENGL 112 at DeVry University

To continue on from earlier work (here, here, here, and here), I will go further along the assignment sequence expected of the students in ENGL 112: Composition and develop the assignment students in the class are asked to do for their fifth week: a topic proposal and source summary for a commentary paper. As previously, I hope that my efforts will assist in my students’ efforts and others’ to write better and help others to do the same.

If only it were so simple a choice…
Image from Giphy.com.

For the assignment (which aligns fairly neatly with the ENGL 135 Topic Selection assignment), students are asked to answer a series of prompts in advance of drafting an essay. The prompts–identify a topic and outline personal involvement in it, summarize two perspectives on it–are meant to help students identify a current, complex topic in which they have some personal investment and to refine their understanding of the topic and the ongoing conversation of which it is part before moving into writing a commentary-style essay on that topic. The University explicitly discourages topics “overly emotional or rooted in religious or moral subjects,” to which proscription my teaching traditionally adds political ideology, gun control, abortion, and the legalization of marijuana.

The first challenge in addressing such an assignment is to identify a field of inquiry. Experience teaches that students, particularly students in first-year writing classes, will try to treat too broad a topic and one for which they are not necessarily well-equipped–not because they are stupid, but because they believe they have to treat major philosophical and cultural concerns to do “real” work. The truth is that working on a narrow topic will yield better results than trying to grapple at a pass with questions that have been debated for millennia without resolution; it is more true in the short sessions at DeVry than at many other schools.

I decided to address the matter by falling back on the topic I seem to have been treating throughout the sample responses I’ve been developing for the present session: roleplaying games, specifically the Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying game, with which I have ample experience, as I’ve attested. It is, admittedly, not a topic of serious heft, but it is one I am confident is little treated, which will help me produce an example for my students–both because it will help me to show them that they can move beyond simple reporting and that they can pursue topics relevant to their interests even when those interests seem to be relatively minor concerns.

With a general topic in mind, I set up my response document. As with the other planning materials I’ve developed during the session, I eschewed the template provided by the University in favor of addressing the prompts directly. I pulled up the most recent planning sheet–that for the Rhetorical Analysis from the third week of the session–and mimicked its formatting in the new document. I then transferred the prompts from the University’s materials into my own, formatting them for ease of reading. This included setting up hanging indentations for the sources the assignment needed summarized.

The document set up, I proceeded to address the prompts provided as I could from my own background knowledge and understanding. Those identifying the topic and my engagement with it were the easiest to address, being closes to me and longest established in my mind. (Too, since I was working as what amounts to an extension of previous work, I felt justified in borrowing from the earlier work I had done–something that I have had students ask after doing. It is a fairly common practice, although anything that is formally published will need to be cited and attested if it is used in another work.) Audience was also addressed fairly easily, as I have been working with a clear idea of whom I am addressing throughout the session.

The matter of the specific angle for me to treat was a more difficult one to address. There are many concerns attendant on roleplaying games, dating back at least to Michael Stackpole’s Pulling Report (I’ve noted addressing roleplaying games in my academic work before, and across a fair span of time, I believe.) While the ire of popular culture towards roleplaying games has largely cooled, it remains present, and those of us who were on the receiving end of that fervor remain wary of it. Too, games which concern themselves with emulations of cultures not necessarily those of their players always run into questions of appreciation versus appropriation–but it seemed that that issue beckoned for attention in the current project. It was therefore to that issue and angle that I attended; I will admit that my engagement with the material biases my angle and approach to it.

Consequently, I asserted a specific issue and angle to treat in my coming commentary essay, working toward what might well serve as a tentative thesis–namely, that the Legend of the Five Rings Roleplaying Game is more an issue of appreciation than appropriation, although there are certainly problems to be found in the manner in which it goes about incorporating materials into its narrative milieu. I knew, though, that my own opinion might well change based on research I would do, so I did not advance the idea as a formal thesis quite yet.

Instead, I went then to search the University library for materials regarding my prospective project. I first searched Academic Search Complete, pre-limiting my search to full-text peer-reviewed journal sources from 200 onward and searching for “cultural appropriation” in the hopes of finding a useful definition of the term. The search yielded 534 results, which was unworkable for the scope of the project and the time available to it, but I was fortunate that one of the early results was a philosophical piece–and such pieces often make much of asserting definitions before engaging with them. I pulled that source, taking its citation data and summary into my own document.

I then looked into the other term most germane to my treatment: cultural appreciation. A search of Academic Search Complete for the term with the same restrictions yielded 469 results; no stand-out among the early results was forthcoming, so I narrowed my search to “cultural appreciation definition.” Only 13 results returned, which was a small enough number to survey sources individually. One source was culled from that set of results, cited, and summarized into the document.

The content made ready, I reviewed my document for style and mechanics. After making the adjustments that needed making, I rendered the document into an accessible format, which I present here: G. Elliott Sample Proposal and Summary. May it, like its predecessors, be of good service!

I could still use your support as I develop more materials for my students and others to use as they further their own understandings of the world.

A Rumination on Some Past Informal Work

In working on one of the other projects I have going on at the moment, I had occasion to look back over some of my older work in it. (This webspace isn’t the only ongoing concern I have, to be sure.) Doing so occasioned the usual wincing at some of the much earlier writings, the rue that I had once thought some of the dreck I pushed out was worth pushing out. (It’s not as if I were being paid for the work and faced a deadline. And now I have to wonder about such being said about some of my other writing…) It also reminded me and prompted me to discuss some of what took me into the pursuit of a scholarly job in the first place; it’s something I can return to without worry at this point, which was a relief.

It came up on a search for “rumination.”
Image sourced from Psychology Today.

It’s quickly evident that such scholarly agenda as I have had has focused on medieval English literature and the practice of teaching English. More of the work I’ve ended up doing, though (and not all of which shows up on my CV), has been of what might be called a lighter nature. I’ve worked with fantasy literatures, chiefly Robin Hobb’s writings, as well as with RPG materials (of which I’ve discussed some in recent weeks in this webspace), and I have a healthy strain of taurascatological work under my belt. (I am aware that all work in the academic humanities can fall under that rubric. I’m not going to have that argument right now, though.) I’ve not always been ready to admit to it–and even now, when I am more or less out of academe and largely free to pursue such studies (amid the limitations imposed by my restricted institutional affiliation), I find that I talk about it in terms of admitting to the work, rather than celebrating it.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, I do enjoy working with medieval materials. They’re neat, and there’s something about holding objects hundreds of years old that thrills. I do not regret doing the work on the materials themselves–at least, not more than I regret much of the experience of academe. But I do think that focusing on them ended up being to my detriment in terms of finding full-time academic work. I’ve noted elsewhere that I am but one of many, many medievalists; I am one of far fewer scholars of fantasy literature and RPGs. And I think that I would have been a “sexier” candidate working with less…formal materials than Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. And I think that I would have ended up showing more joy in my work had I allowed myself to focus more on the “lighter” work I tend to do anymore. I’d’ve gotten more enjoyment from following more jokes than I have, and I think it would have come out in the work, helping me both to do more of it (so I’d be more likely to get hired) and to do better at it (so I’d be more likely to get hired).

If academic work is a calling, I heard more than one, and I answered one of the quieter calls made to me.

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Sample Assignment Response: A Rhetorical Analysis for ENGL 112 at DeVry University

To continue on from earlier work (herehere, and here), I will go further along the assignment sequence expected of the students in ENGL 112: Composition and develop the assignment students in the class are asked to do for their fourth week: the rhetorical analysis for which they (and I) planned last week. As previously, I hope that my efforts will assist in my students’ efforts–and others’.

No, it’s not the Illuminati. Just the rhetorical triangle, traditionally and simply conceived.
Image taken from http://www.ou.edu/englhale/triangle.html

For the assignment, students are asked to draft a rhetorical analysis of the advertisement they selected in the previous week, asserting whether or not the ad is likely to be effective at its presumed purpose for its presumed audience. The analysis should take the form of a brief (title page and three to four pages of text) thesis-driven essay, formatted according to APA standards and making minimal if any use of outside information other than the assessed ad–which need only be cited by way of providing its URL. It is a fairly standard assignment, calling for a fairly standard response, and one that should emerge easily from the work done in the previous week’s assignment.

To begin my own work, I opened the advertisement being assessed and my earlier planning sheet. I also set up a document for my response, formatting it on letter-sized sheets with double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman type. I then set up my title page and main text, inserting running heads and page numbers as appropriate. (How to do so has been covered during class time; it is also in video tutorials in the University’s online materials.) I hadn’t yet determined a title for the project, so that received attention before I moved further into the work.

Because the current project is an extension of last week’s work, or last week’s work was preparation for the current project, I felt justified in bringing the text over from the planning sheet to the main document wholesale. I had done a fair bit of work on it, and, as I told my students during class time, the more work done on the planning sheet, the less would (in theory) need to be done on the essay itself. I did strip out the headings from the planning sheet, as I do not think them necessary in so short a paper as the exercise calls for; explicit transitions and clear statements of ideas serve to guide readers through the document.

I did notice, though, that I had quite a few paragraphs beginning more similarly than I like to see. Several consecutive paragraphs started with “The ad,” and, while pattern-forming can help to unify a document and to establish argument, the flat beginnings threatened to come off as uninspired and pro forma–and if I am merely going through the motions with something in which I am invested, I cannot hope that readers will engage with it. Consequently, I adjusted my transition into one of the paragraphs, offering some variety in the hope of maintaining readerly interest.

As I made the change, I also noted places where I could connect my prose back more strongly and explicitly to my thesis. The paragraphs treating logos, ethos, and pathos in the advertisement could each stand to have an overt return to the thesis at their ends, so they received such. The third paragraph, describing the advertisement, also looked like it would accept an explicit motion towards the thesis; it received one, as well. (The offers of explicit return to the thesis also helped me make page length; I was a bit short of the full essay in the planning sheet, which is to be expected–and corrected before the full submission.)

Additionally, one or two comments about the desirability of the advertisement’s target audience seemed called for; I made them. Further, given the relatively specialized nature of what was being advertised, I felt it appropriate to offer more context for my discussion as a whole; I expanded my initial paragraph a bit to accommodate that contextualization, which I hope will make clearer what I am talking about.

The content made ready, I deleted my highlighted notes and reviewed my document for style and mechanics. After making the adjustments that needed making, I rendered the document into an accessible format, which I present here: G. Elliott Sample Rhetorical Analysis November 2018. May it be of good service!

Help me to keep helping others; send some money my way.

Yet More about My Teaching

I recently made the note that I have never sat for a first-semester college composition class; owing to a particularly excellent high school English teacher (thank you, Mrs. Murray!) and my undergraduate school’s policy on AP classes and their equivalencies, I was exempted from that particular curricular requirement. There were certainly advantages to it; I was spared the expense of the course at the college level, for one, and, for another, I did not have to take the time to go through the class, but instead could focus my schedule more fully on what was then my major field of study.

Nope, never did have this part of the experience.
Image from Inside Higher Ed, here: https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2016/03/11/importance-general-composition-courses-essay

As it happened, though, I did not attend to my major as closely as I ought to have done, and I ended up switching my course of study–to English, in the event. And while I moved directly into major coursework in that curriculum, I did, as a senior, have to round out my composition requirement (much to my annoyance, having already been successful in upper-division English classes), and doing so without the context provided by having sat for the earlier class made things less easy than they ought to have been. (I did still get an A in the class, though; I’d’ve been embarrassed had I not.)

Even as an undergraduate English major, I worked toward being at the front of a classroom; graduate work only suggested a different kind of classroom. But most of the teaching I have ended up doing has been in first-year composition classes; I’ve taught it at all but one of the colleges where I’ve taught, often in multiple sections each semester, such that I’ve lost track of how many individual iterations of the course I’ve taught. And throughout doing so, I’ve struggled with understanding how students can act toward it as they do; I’ve never been in the situation, and I was not a normal student until graduate school in any event, so my frame of reference is small, indeed.

My practice of writing the assignments I ask my students to write has been an attempt to help me better understand those I teach by putting myself into situations not unlike what they face–and it seems to be a better match with non-traditional students than with the more “normal” first-year college student. Like most of the non-traditional students, I write what I write amid working at one or more other jobs; I do not have the “typical” student’s ability to focus wholly on my coursework at this point. (To be fair, I was not as good about it when I did have that ability as I ought to have been–and I was not as good about how I exercised that lack as I ought to have been, either.) Like many of them, it’s been a while since I was a student in a traditional classroom setting, as well. But there is still the divide in that I have remained grounded in the field of study, while most or them have never had a solid grounding or have lost what they did have. Thus, while I mean to continue my practice of drafting and offering examples, I know they are only useful to a particular point.

Having been assigned once again to teach first-semester composition, I have found myself in mind again of my own lack of common collegiate experience. (I am in mind once again, after some time, of Timothy Carens and the College English piece “Serpents in the Garden: English Professors in Contemporary Film and Television.” I have to wonder how valid the assertions remain.) I am certain that my teaching has suffered because I did not face the challenges that my students do; I have not been as sympathetic in the past as I perhaps ought to have been, and it has shown in the comments that students have left me. Though I have improved, I know there is still work for me to do–and that there are things I am not likely ever to get, really, because I am not now and have not been where they are whom I teach. And that continues to sadden me.

I still don’t make much from teaching. I could still use your support.