Friday, April 21, 2017

Some Writing Center Fun

I love when students come in with papers about legalizing medical marijuana and try to avoid telling me (but like, I'm gonna read the paper?). I'm like "what's your topic?" "we could choose one" "okay so what did you choose?" "oh, something political" "okay what" "um, about medicine" "uh huh" "..." "..." "..." " some people with parkinson's use an herb I guess for their pain?" OHHHKAY I SEE. When I finally push it out of them they're like, "Yeah, I dunno, I read an article about this marijuana stuff and it seems interesting..." I'm like o rly? With your Jamaican flag patch backpack? And then once I'm like, "Yes, it's a very undervalued topic in our political system. Very interesting and important--especially when considering repercussions in our prison systems!" they relax and we can work.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I Have Done the Thing That Made Me Feel Alive

Those motivational quotes and social media posts, "Do the thing that scares you," "Now is your chance," "This is your sign." I don't see them because I have done it. I have chased the things that make me feel alive. I also keep doing them. There are no more leaps to make. And what are the motivational posters for that?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Spring Break (Finale)

My visit fell right on the eve of Jimbo's final MBA project. He was high off the relief, chattering and springy, so we walked to St. Louis pizza. A new door opened. More proof that you don't have to be around The Institutions for magic to happen. In fact, that's likely a recipe for unhappiness -> disaster -> closed doors.

On Friday I met with undergrad students to talk about working in comedy/writing/whatever my dumb life is. P weird because I am trash 95% of the time, but in answering their questions I was like, "Oh I kind of know some things it turns out and also have been paid to do all the things that were once my dreams, so who knew!" I tried to write in the library, with a homemade poptart as my prize, but I thought about it so much I just ate it and then opened up a word doc and closed it. It's vacation.

At night my mom and I walked around campus. We noticed an observatory tour starting. I noted strargazing was something I did while visiting the college, but I never went as a student. (Ditto eating a giant waffle.) We looked at Jupiter from the singing lens. At the house she whipped up a huge bowl of cream. I put it in a bowl of strawberries. The air is flower-heavy. Mom holds onto a sprig of lavender. In the morning it is brown.

I get ready slowly, taking photos of the dogs, doing a flat abs workout (sunglasses emoji), packing, shoving deviled eggs into my face. We walk to the general store. I'm on the train now. I feel unproductive, but I'm outlining projects and reassessing my focus. That is work I could not bill but work that needs to be done nonetheless. Summer is shaking out and creeping up.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Spring Break (So Far)

My cereal bowls are piling on the nightstand at my mom's house. Cinnamon Toast Crunch while I watch 13 Reasons Why in bed. Everything became green in a blink. I am optimistic. Then I worry if I am too optimistic (RESIST). But maybe being a libertarian society wouldn't be so bad. Mia says, "Oh yeah, kids will go to McDonalds High School. Whatever." She's wearing a t-shirt from work. She wears the same bun as she did ten years ago. My drama teacher is expanding to work with sports broadcasting students. I ask if it was hard to give up professional theatre. She tells me it's not even about the theatre--it's about being able to do everything at once.

I didn't open my computer for two days. I ran around my old college campus. I ran down the river road. I ran in an undetermined direction guessing it was two miles. If not, eh. Kath and I in the Guest House cutting up. I often can't believe I'm old enough to rent a hotel room.

I get to watch Survivor the night it is on. Ooh boy was it a good one. LC and I went to the pub I worked at for four years. They added sprinkles to the shake menu. I ate them. My mom reads at church. I walk there just far enough behind my old professor that it would seem foolish to catch up. Her shoulders are heavy. She is a new widow. She gives me great advice about academic journals and wears a very smart blazer. I'm jazzed about a collab with a friend. We plot in a 50 minute window. Once I say I will do a thing, I know I am going to do the thing.

The dogs have just gotten haircuts. They're fuzzy and I like to pet them, but lord do they bark.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Not Syria

I am reading The Things They Carried--a high school classic that was never on my syllabus. It's beautiful and sad. There are reasons the canon is the canon. I worry about the future like I'm looking through a cloud. I know I could walk through, but I can't see right now.

I figured out the tack to take with the troublesome third grader. He yells, "OBJECTION BORING" in the middle of activities. I used to remind him it is hurtful to talk during other people's scenes. Now I deadpan, "Overruled" and he clams up.

No matter what depths of hell a student pulls their grade from through late work and office hours, they always manage to grub for a B. "Focus on writing the paper, not doing the math," I say. This guy was in prison for years, and he still just wants to get a B for arbitrary reasons.

Three scenes in a row I wasn't in in last night's show. I put my forehead against the backstage and waited. This is not what I had imagined. I like groups of people, but I dislike large plates of food. I know we eat that much individually, but all at once it seems scary. Where will it go? Inside us? Like a reverse alien shooting out of someone's chest. Instead we swallow it down.

I'm reading about Syria and Puhg watches a Vice about plastic in the ocean. I can't move. I live here, I should be happy every day. Jury still out on how we can save the world.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

One Shake at a Time

It was a Friday night during my freshman year of college. A girl from my dorm and I were working on the "shake side" of our school pub and grill. There was some huge event that just let out right as we got to work and ticket after ticket kept wrrring from the teeny printer. We'd rip them off and shove them, crammed, onto the order line.

Making a milkshake involved a seven-step process. 1. Dip seven scoops of ice cream into the metal cup. 2. Walk to the grill side and add a little milk from the cow. 3. Add requested toppings. 4. Using a machine, forcefully blend everything in the cup. 5. Empty the ice cream into a paper cup. 6. Add a spoon. 7. Rinse the mug immediately. Start to finish each shake was about five minutes of work.

There were two of us and around fifty shake orders fifteen minutes into our shift. They kept coming. I kept racking up math. 25 shakes times five minutes per shake divided by two people plus five shakes times five minutes divided by two...I worried. And then I stopped worrying. There was literally nothing I could do to speed up the process. My coworker was audibly squeaking and hemming. She was rushing. But so what if you crumble a Reese's cup in 20 seconds instead of 40? You can hastily slosh the water in the mug, but then it's kind of slimy and you just have to go back and do it again when you need a new cup.

We would not finish the work cut out for us. People would wait an hour for a milkshake. But guess what? Oh well. I didn't slack, but I worked at a steady, relaxed pace. I was paid by the hour (I think $6.25). I did what I could do. I probably even sang quietly along to the Top 40 radio.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Five Teaching Standards I Stick By

1. Turn Papers Back the Class After They Are Due

Students forget so fast. They think about my class in the exact hours they are sitting in it and rarely dedicate outside time to reflecting on what they learned. Even asking, "What did we do last class?" elicits widespread chin-scratching. With every minute that passes from when students put their pencils down, they forget more and more what they wrote about and how they felt while writing it. Immediate feedback is key. Two-week old feedback can be like reading comments on a stranger's essay.

Also, how can students move forward taking what they learned from the last assignment if they don't have feedback on said assignment? I think it's practically cruel and unusual to ask students to write more without the knowledge of their current progress. I would be livid if my boss asked me to do a project, I finished it, he said he would get back to me on how to improve the project, but in the meantime he told me to do a very similar project that should be better than the first (based on his and not my own standards). That's lunacy. When I work with students at the Writing Center I usually start with "What kinds of feedback do you usually get on papers?" and when they answer, "I haven't gotten my other papers back yet," I want to pop someone in the kneecap.

2. Give Students Time in Class to Review Paper Feedback

Many teachers give students papers back at the end of a class. I understand the desire to do this. Grades can be emotional--for both teacher and student. Students can feel sad or defeated after a bad grade. Teachers can feel nervous about a student not liking us after a harsh grade. But! Put the emotions aside to best serve students. I find the tension that can come with a bad grade is better dissolved by letting a student ask questions immediately rather than letting them stew.

No one wants students distracted reading comments during class activities. That's why reading comments should BE the activity. In really only takes fifteen minutes to let students read every comment while I circulate clarifying comments or answering handwriting questions. I've also found I literally must go to every student and say "Can you read what I wrote?" I used to always let everyone know I was walking around to answer questions, but a surprising amount of students say "Yes" when I ask "Did you get it?" but then if I ask, "Could you read everything I wrote?" they say, "Oh, no." They're worried I'll be offended. In reality, I know I grade on the train and my pen slips sometimes. If they don't have time to read the comments, they won't. They'll see a good grade and be happy and never think about it again. They'll see a bad grade and be miffed and never think about it again.

3. Have Each Student Speak within the First Fifteen Minutes of Class

If students don't directly engage with me within the first few minutes, there's too much likelihood they're in their own brains for the entire period. They need to feel like part of the class right away to later join in the day's lessons actively.

4. Do Not Be Disappointed

Very cliche, but on the first day I say, "I am not your mom, and I am not your girlfriend. I am your teacher. I'm never going to be offended or disappointed by how you do in class." When I had teachers who told me they were "disappointed" by me that just made me never want to look at them again. That's weird. Why would a teacher have the emotional investment in me to be disappointed? Being supportive but emotionally disconnected means a) a totally appropriate classroom relationships and b) If I'm not going to be personal about a student's education, they don't have to feel guilty to me if they miss class or don't succeed. That's on them. They can be honest with me about their real struggles not coming to school, for example, instead of having to make up a huge story about their sick grandma.

5. Learn about the Class

At the start of the term learn who these people are. A simple writing assignment will do. Basic questions: why are you here, what are your goals, etc. Halfway through the class one-on-one meetings are necessary. Students need to know I am paying attention. I need to know what they need.