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.

Thursday, March 30, 2017


1. Let it be. Are you humble enough to float, to move with the stream? Submit your will to the sea.
2. Be a salmon.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


7:30 AM - rise, read the news, check email
8 AM - research train tickets for Spring Break, journal, read spirituality essays
9 AM - run four miles at the gym while reviewing a new screenplay
10 AM - shower and shove my life together
10:25 - run to the 22 bus, eat yogurt on the bus spilling on leggings
10:50 - jump off the bus and go to Dunkin for a vanilla cupcake coffee for me and a large regular for my mentor
11 AM - arrive at mentor's house, he greets me with pastry cake, continue outlining our new pilot
12:45 - walk to work at T Community College
1 PM - meet with a student to tutor her in paragraph sturcture
2 PM - catch the train to Lakeview, read The Things They Carried
2:20 - get a pink manicure
3 PM - sit in a table read of a new screenplay
5 PM - give feedback to famous writer (!)
5:45 - go home to Puhg, buy train tickets, organize papers/plans for tomorrow's classes, eat kale bowl
6:30 PM - improv class at The A________
7:50 PM - Lyft to i_, answer student emails in the car
8:15 warm-up with Dollar in the green room, other castmate brings cookies in a Ziploc
8:35 do two-person set with Dollar about high school detective duo
9 PM watch rest of show
10 PM sit at the bar with Pookie & Had, chatting
11 PM ride train home, walk the wet sidewalk
11:30 double-check lesson plans, snacks for full-day ahead
11:55 sleep

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


Seven women. A witchy number, a holy number. It started as a Galentine's party but as the plans deepened and the email chain wore on, it became Coven Weekend 2017. It was routine to receive  messages like "The black flame candle has been lit."

The first five to arrive in Sprite's woodsy family cabin unpacked quickly. There were kimonos for everyone and foam crowns to bedazzle. We all showed off our snacks. I told the group I felt like I was in 4th grade again, bringing a literal suitcase of doll clothes to a friend's house just to sort of marvel at it all and not really to put it on my Bitty Baby, or even, for that matter, hold my Bitty Baby. I ate a bunch of fancy cheese. I ate like I had never eaten before. Hoof said, "Me too. I am so snacky! I wonder if its because I am in a safe space." It's a joke and it's not a joke.

When the final two arrived we played a game that involved drawing cartoons with dry-erase markers. In between we chattered about our lives and Roxanne Gay and singlehood and pain tolerance, and wow are women amazing. A medical head of Cook County Hospital. Four JDs. 6 out of 7 of us have been into prisons?! An all-star roller derby champ. We flipped the sand timer and also discussed the Chicago police chief. I said I have been thinking about becoming a cop, and no one laughed at me. "You would be a good cop," they said.

After the glitter tatts it was time for the fire. We wrote out what we want to rid ourselves of and went around the circle burning the scrap papers one at a time. Strained relationships, Catholicism, the fear of moving, the error of being a failure. Into the pit. A marshmallow got stuck in my fur hood. I don't want to wash it. Every time I put on my coat I smell firewood. One house far away on a hill, we blared femme pop music and danced. We channeled the Crucible. I always felt someone was missing. Hunny, drunk, slurred about her passed grandma who she believes haunts her. There were no wrong answers. When my teammates were too wine competitive for charades I sat on the carpet and had my tarrot cards read. The message was clear. It soothed me. "I guess you shouldn't become a cop," Nasty said. I guess not.

We all skittered to the basement. A large room with bunk beds. I chose a top. In the middle of the night, time unclear, I had to throw up. It was pitch black. My period had started. Summoned? I felt empty in the good way.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Dream, March 16 2017

I was on the cruise ship again. We were at port. I was on a beach with MB. She was, characteristically, being very social and bouncing about people partying. Someone I know treated me strangely and I asked for advice from a woman walking by. It helped. I went inside a sunken ship. I could not remember who our third female castmate was. I asked MB. She couldn't remember either. We tried everything (rereading emails, asking dancers), but everyone had forgotten.

MB and I went to the bathroom, and when we came out of the stalls we saw a man's face peeking in the door. I froze in fear. MB's instinct was to run after him. In a large, dark room of junk we saw a cabinet door creaking. She walked to it. I wanted to leave. Right as she was about to swing it open the man, middle age and Chinese, walked out. He didn't speak English and pretended he was looking for cleaning supplies.

We discussed him. Maybe he was just waiting to clean the bathroom. Or maybe he was a creep. We would never know. I remembered something in real life that connected to the fake world and woke up suddenly at 5:40. It came to me--there was no third woman on my cast.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Front Door

My front door doesn't look like my front door anymore.
Why? Is it the snow? I don't know. I don't know.
There's been a color change, like someone painted it in the night.
Has it always been dark wood? I thought so, but now I'm unsure.
It's the simplest thing, the entering point for everything else.
It should be easy--this is where I go. But
instead I look back. Then again. Did I pass my building?
Is this, in fact, where I belong? Walking in
to this door that doesn't look like my front door anymore.

Saturday, March 4, 2017


"Is that true? You served in Kuwait and Iraq?"
"Unfortunately," he replied. I had spent the majority of the past hour looking at his army leather jacket while he toiled over scarps of notes. He gave his life to the country and now here he is in community college writing a paper on koi ponds. I was assigned to work with him because he uses disability software, but he had no trouble with the software. He mainly needed help double spacing and saving to his flash-drive. Finding the parentheses was difficult. I asked him why he indented every line. He did not know what a paragraph was. We had fifteen minutes left and he needed help citing his sources. He had a pile of articles carefully printed and underlined but forgot a lot of the titles he had used. We're supposed to encourage the student to take the lead in all their learning, but he was getting nervous. I had another appointment soon, and besides that, the library was about to close. I sat with the APA stylebook on my lap and told him what info belonged where. I did not make him look it up. Even with me guiding the ship, he would forget punctuation or leave things blank. He dropped a paper and told me he has mental trauma. And I swear the whole scene went black and white. It's no surprise that academia can seem ridiculous sometimes, but oh my god this human does not need to learn in-text citations. He taps a million spaces to correctly right-align the professor's name. I ask if he knows how to do that any other ways. He says, "Ma'am, I don't know nothin'."

Friday, March 3, 2017


This week I spent a few days at my dad's. Major events include visiting the new healthy protein shop. I had a Captain Crunch 180 calorie, 4 grams of sugar shake, and I can't stop dreaming about it. Walks through main street, past the new blinking movie sign and into the teensers coffee house. I feel at ease out of the city. I get the high score at the pizza parlor Ms. Pac-Man. I watch King of Queens while grading papers and journal in the room above the stairs, train horn blowing by.

Puhg came, and we ended up at dinner on a very gloomy night. We ordered a big pretzel and salads while the sky went black. Soon everyone in the restaurant's phone started going off. Warnings, warnings. I, usually calm about these things, felt nervous to be next to the window. It was headed for our town. The trees whipped around. The manager led us all to the basement, where some guy brought his beer and an angry woman complained. There was no cell service and soon the power went out. The street held tubs of water. I said I felt safe, and someone near me said maybe the ceiling would collapse. I doubted it. But I imagined my computer--probably not backed up since my last play revision--being lifted from the living room of my dad's house. I am first a writer.

In a half hour the lights weren't on, but we were welcome to go back upstairs. Our food had finished. I ate the warmed, icky salad. Everything was on the house. Puhg got two craft beers while my dad looked furiously for info online, prepping for the onslaught of work at the paper. Small towns ain't bad. It had been the plan to see Get Out, but the theatre had no projectors running, so we watched Arrival in the living room. Things change but they're still good. The tornado destroyed a nursing home. Only one person and a lot of property dead. The governor came out the next morning. I had the most peaceful night's sleep I can remember. The window was open, and everything smelled like rain.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Open Sesame

Most of us have had the thought, "That person is pathetic." I'm not proud of when I've felt that way, but it's cautionary. If we're using Inside Out as a framework for emotions, judging another person is Disgust protecting us from being so aloof, broken, disillusioned. I never pity others because I don't like them. I do it because I want to tell myself to avoid their fate. But what's so weird is the more I pity others, the more I feel pitiful. Base logic tells me if I am putting myself a step ahead of someone I don't want to switch places with I should feel confident. But that tactic is just so blatantly corrupt. Instead when we set ourselves on ledges, we succumb to the concept that there are ledges. And if we're in that mental playground, we then must recognize everyone on ledges higher than us. Life is not a ladder. Life is not a track. Life is not even a hamster wheel.

To feel less judged, stop judging. To feel less alone, be loving. To follow your dreams, believe fiercely in others'. At first it doesn't seem to make sense. If I want apples, why would I give people apples? My apples. Well, I guess because then more apples would be out there, seeds dropping into soil, accidentally planted. The love for and thus demand for apples would be higher. Hand pies and slices by the wheelbarrow.