Friday, June 24, 2011

One Summer Class Down, One to Go

My five-week English 101 class ended on Tuesday of this week. The pace was so fast that I never really stopped to think about what a good class it really was. We had some good writers in there, and a higher-than-expected percentage of students who worked really hard (read: not many lazies this time!). Also, I saw some improvement in my students’ writing. (Yay!) Honestly, I didn’t know what kind of improvement I’d see (if any); five weeks is not a lot of time.

My five-week English 102 class started on Wednesday, just a few hours after I turned in my final grades for English 101. My head is spinning from the shift. This new class is about half the size of my old one, and I think it’s going to be good; as with 101, I have some smart students, and most of them participate enthusiastically in class discussion—which I particularly appreciate, since it’s a small class.

The biggest challenge for me (so far) has been the syllabus: How do you fit a class on writing about short fiction, poetry, and drama, all into five weeks?

The instructor who taught this class last year did it by leaving out poetry.

I couldn’t do that. Could. Not. Do. It.

So we’re spending 50% of our time on short fiction, 40% of our time on poetry, and 10% of our time on drama—watching and discussing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and then reading passages from the text after watching the movie that came out a few years ago.

I hate that we have to give Shakespeare the short shrift. At least we'll look at a few sonnets in the poetry unit.

This weekend will be a busy one of lesson-planning and grading a few homework assignments. The lesson-planning will take time. Happily, I get to re-read two of my favorite short stories as part of my class prep: Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" and Welty's "A Worn Path"!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Penultimate Day of English 101

Today was our penultimate day of English 101. Students’ argument/persuasion essays are due tomorrow, and they turned in their required outlines at the end of last week. I really wanted to do something fun yet instructional today, so I had them read “A Modest Proposal” over the weekend. For the first hour of class, we walked through the essay, looking at its structure, how he presents his “counterargument,” how he reels the reader in by convincing them of his reasonableness before introducing his shocking solution in paragraph 9.

It was a good class. Of course, we spent a lot of time discussing his use of irony and the use of satire to make a point or an argument. We also stopped here and there so I could answer a student’s question about the meaning of a word, or about certain unclear parts, such as why “getting rid of the Papists” would be considered a benefit of the proposal.

For the second half of class, I passed out a sheet of paper with bits and pieces of students’ outlines—their thesis statements, some topic sentences, and some examples of evidence that they’d planned to use. As a class, we looked at each item and discussed whether it “worked” as a thesis statement, a topic sentence, or evidence—whichever it was purported to be. In the outlines I reviewed over the weekend, students seemed to have trouble differentiating between “evidence” and “opinion,” and I think we cleared that up by looking at the actual student examples.

Tomorrow is the last day of class. I’m going to have them fill out a class evaluation, which I’m crafting now. This class has been a good one; the students were engaged and enthusiastic, and there were several writers with promise.

I’m excited about not having to plan any lessons tonight. I’ll spend some time polishing my syllabus for English 102 (which begins Wednesday). If I have time, I’ll whip up a batch of cookies for my English 101 students.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Some Initial Thoughts

Five weeks ago, I walked into a community college classroom and greeted the class: "Welcome to English 101, Expository Writing." I was the teacher. The students, ranging in age from 17 to mid-50s, looked at me uncertainly.

Most of us hadn't been in a classroom in years.

Several weeks before, I'd been hired to teach English composition for two compressed summer sessions: five weeks of English 101, and five weeks of English 102 (Writing about Literature). Two full-semester courses, squeezed into five weeks each. It seemed crazy, I know.

It seemed even crazier that the school had hired me so quickly, with so few questions. The administration was desperate for a warm body that had an M.A. and could teach these classes. As an M.A. whose time in grad school included more rhet/comp than lit classes, I guess I was a good candidate. In addition, I was burned out on my corporate career as a technical writer, and I was desperate for a break.

So, that morning in mid-May, I found myself standing in front of a classroom of future dental assistants, air conditioner repairmen, nurses, X-ray technicians, and EMTs, along with a couple of college-bound teens and twentysomethings. Among them (I learned later) were at least two convicted felons.

That afternoon, I did as I would every afternoon for the next five weeks: I drove to my tech writing job and put in five or six hours of software documentation, Sharepoint spin-up, and standards planning.

That night, I worked on my lesson plan for the next day. On nights to follow, I crafted more lesson plans and graded drafts or revisions, complete with copious helpful comments, for 20 students.

Some mornings, I was up at 5:00 to finish planning the two hours of class I'd teach that day.

Those five weeks are almost up, and I'm tired but very, very happy with life right now. I have two busy jobs, but I don't spend enough time at either to get burned out. It's been good.

The second five-week class--Writing About Literature--begins soon. I'll be working on the syllabus for that this weekend when I'm not grading and making comments on my English 101 students' argument essay outlines.

I'm kind of excited about all that. I'll try to post more about the new class--and my reflections on English 101, once it's over--next week.

That brings me to a question: Why this blog? Glad you asked. I hope to post my thoughts on my life as a hack and a grunt here, obviously. I also want to use this blog as a place where I can "store" links to different resources for teaching composition--anything from lesson plan ideas to examples of different types of essays to real-life illustrations of logical fallacies in action.

Although I imagine I'll focus on my "grunt" life more than my "hack" life, I do plan to write occasionally about life as a technical writer. As a Keats-obsessed English major years ago, I never dreamed I would become a technical writer, much less like being one. But I do, for the most part. And that's that.

I hope this blog will be a helpful resource to other grunts and hacks out there, as well as those aspiring to one or both careers. It's a pretty good life.