Archive for ‘Teaching’

January 2, 2010

reading, writing, and, uh, baby stuff

It’s 2010 now. My first wedding anniversary was technically yesterday, but I’ll just call it today, since it’s early in the morning and I can’t sleep anyway. This time last year I was in the airport, boarding a plane to Maui. This year I’m sitting at the computer with a baby in my belly, wishing I could take some decongestant. Alas.

1. Read a few books over the break.

The Twelve Kingdoms: The Vast Spread of the Sea
Fuyumi Ono

12K is a (unfinished) series of Japanese fantasy novels upon which a fantastic anime by the same name is based.  This one is the third.  They’ve all three been grand, and perhaps the first was my favorite, but this one gives some glimpses into two of my favorite characters.  The books are very mythological in the way the story is told.  Sometimes the author takes you out of the story too much to explain yet another specific world-building aspect.  If I hadn’t seen the anime many times, I’d probably get confused more often than now.  Still, the books created one of my favorite anime ever, so I do appreciate them on that level.  Plus, the anime follows the books almost to the letter, which is a rare finding.

Odd and the Frost Giants
Neil Gaiman

I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman on multiple levels.  This is one of those books I can’t wait to read to my kid when he/she gets to be a bit older.  It’s a bit mature for too young of readers – issues of kidnapping, drinking, etc – but it reads similar to a fairy tale.  Not a book that will stand out in my mind when I think of Gaiman, but I believe it was a book written quickly in any case.

2. Writing

I’ve been itching to write again as I settle a bit more into this pregnancy thing.  I’m still waiting for the nausea to ease, but it doesn’t seem to be just yet.  (I just gagged while typing that.)  I’ve been so tired that I hardly even want to think.  But teaching starts up again in a week, and I’ll have to think to teach, so perhaps that will give me a nice jump start.

3.  Baby stuff

16 weeks as of yesterday (today).  Time is just flying by.  We have our 20ish-week ultrasound on the 25th of January, and that’s when we ought to find out if we’re having a boy or a girl.  I feel bad having to call the baby “it” and I’d like to start thinking about names!

As you can see, things got shorter and shorter.  I think my body can sleep again.  Ciao.

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September 7, 2009

Reasons Not to Quit

Agent Rachelle Gardner posed the question “As a writer or a publishing profesional (sic), how do YOU keep yourself motivated when you feel like quitting?”

I’d like to split the answer into two persona – myself as a writer and myself as a teacher of writing.

Myself as a writer:

1. I can’t imagine not calling myself a writer.  It’s such a part of my self identity that I’ll continue to write in order to keep that title.  It’s just what I do.

2. I read.  A lot.  Reading motivates me to write something better, if it’s a bad novel.  If it’s good, it gives me a level to aspire to.  I rarely think, “I could never write like that.”  I think, “I want to write like that.”

3. I think about the alternatives.  Do I really want to have a regular 9-5 job?  I love being at home, having the freedom to move around my own space.  I like being able to stay in pajamas.

Myself as a teacher of writing:

1. Reading the papers of my students motivates me more than anything else.  If you could read through a sample of some of the writing I come across on a daily basis, you would realize how important it truly is to focus on writing in schools.  These teenagers have the writing capacity of someone half their age.  It’s heartbreaking.

2. I fit right in the education environment.  I like learning and talking about learning.  I feel enriched by an environment that never stops thinking.  Some people hate every minute they have to spend in a classroom, but I thrive.  I’m not saying I was always the best student; studying, in particular, was not my thing – writing suited my personality much more.

3. Not having a 9-5 job.  Even if I taught full time, I’d still have much more freedom than having to stay in one place for a long period.  I want to be able to keep my future children out of daycare as much as possible, and teaching would certainly help with that ideal.

September 1, 2009

Etiquette for the First Week of School

We’re now into our second week of school, and I’ve noticed some behavior among my students that I wish I could have squished right off the bat.  I wish I could send this out to all my students as a before-I-even-meet-you memo.

1. Show up to the first day of class.  You don’t get a get-out-of-jail free card for the first day of class – if you don’t show, then you get counted absent.  If you miss the first day of class, you should probably ask for what you missed.  You probably need, you know, the syllabus.  One student showed up on the second day of class and kept interrupting me with questions that she easily would have known if she had bothered to come to the first day of class.  Such as, what books you need.

2. Don’t come in late.  You definitely aren’t impressing anyone.  One student apologized for being late, which I appreciated a bit, but it certainly didn’t erase the face that he was late to begin with.

3. Don’t make excuses for why you can’t buy a book.  I do my best to research book prices before I pick my books in an effort to keep costs to a minimum for my students.  However, textbooks are always expensive.  You need to get used to this idea early on.

4. Be on your best behavior.  Don’t talk with your friends, text, play on the computer, roll your eyes, etc, etc, etc.  It’s the first week of school – do you really want me to remember you as the student who complained about the amount of work you had to do to my face?

5. Keep the excuses to a minimum.  The last thing we want, while we’re trying to get into the groove of teaching again, is to be bombarded with excuses.  Already?  Really?  You couldn’t wait a while to start in with the excuses as far as why you don’t have paper to write on or why you were five minutes late?  Genuine problems are great, but there’s a bit difference between a problem and an excuse.

Those are the five that stick out to me right now.  Oh, teaching is so much fun!

August 6, 2009

5 Way to Impress Me

I have t-minus 14 days until I meet my 13 new first-years.  (Well, it’ll probably end up being more than that since there is a group that still needs to register for classes.)  I’ll get to meet my adult studies students the week after that.

I very much enjoy teaching, especially teaching freshmen, even with all the headaches they often bring.  They’re fresh out of high school.  They’re shy and cocky, they think an A in high school English will mean an A in college English, they think 27 is old.  They think they can get away with goofing off in class then get highly embarrassed when you call them on it.  I probably complain about them a lot to my husband, but truthfully, teaching first-years keeps me on my toes and makes my days much more interesting.

I don’t consider myself a particularly strict teacher, but I do have certain things I ask of my students that I expect them to follow.  The syllabus I hand out the first week of class should be their Bible – it’s not just fluff.  I typically don’t make exceptions for things I put in there.  Really, if I spend that much time writing up something for you, you should probably read it.

So here’s a list of five ways to impress me as my student.  You want to get and stay on my good side?  Follow these do’s and don’t’s.

1. Spell my name right.  It’s on the syllabus.  It’s also on that “Writing Guidelines” sheet I give you at the beginning of class.  I also type it on the screen for you to see, when we go over AGAIN how to format your papers correctly.  It’s Mrs. Alicia Hernandez-Burr.  Not Ms.  Not Miss.  Not Hernandez.  Not Hernadez.  Not Hernandez Burr.  My name is the second thing I see on your paper (besides your name), so if you don’t get it right, I’m already irritated.

2.  Format your papers correctly.  We’ll go over this many times, so I expect you to get it right by your second paper.  If it’s the fourth paper and you’re still getting it wrong, you’ll probably get major points taken off just because you put three spaces between your heading and title instead of one.  Really, I’m that anal about it.  If you don’t format it correctly, I assume you’re lazy and/or don’t give a shit, and neither of those are attitudes you want me to have in the back of my mind as I grade your paper.  It’s really not that hard, people.

3. Show up for class when you can and stay in touch with me when you can’t.  I always have an absence policy simply for the fact that I highly detest being asked dumb questions that I know a student is only asking because they missed class.  When you miss class, you get behind.  I am happy to help students catch up when they miss for legitimate reasons, but I’m not going to take your late assignment when you disappeared for two weeks.  And I’m not going to let you make up the in-class journal when you “forgot” to set your alarm and walked in 30-min late to a 50-min class (for that matter, I won’t let you sign in as not absent either).  You know my absence policy very early on – I’m not going to suddenly change it just for you.

4. Put away the phone and laptop.  Whether I’m teaching in a traditional or tiered classroom, I can tell when you’re trying to text on a phone in your lap.  I’m tired of asking politely.  You get a blanket warning at the beginning of the semester, and after that I’ll probably just embarrass you by taking it away in front of everyone.

5. Open and close your mouth.  Nothing probably bothers me more than hearing little whispers (or not so little whispers) while I’m trying to hear something another student is saying.  My hearing is not that good, so any extra noises makes it almost impossible to understand them.  Show respect for both me and the other students by keeping your comments to yourself until the end of class.

On the opposite side, I highly appreciate students making an effort to participate in class.  Even if you’re unsure about your ideas, or just want to pose a question for discussion, making an effort will get you serious brownie points.  I once had a student whose comments were always a little off and sometimes even a little uncomfortable.  However, at least he tried to facilitate some discussion.  On my class comments sheets, the comment I often get the most is the complaint that they wished more people had participated in discussions.  So really, it’s not just me who wants to hear your ideas – your fellow students do as well.

I really don’t care how well you can write – if you can’t follow some of these rules to impress me (especially the ones dealing with absences and participation), you’re likely not to make an A.  That may seem a little harsh, but I make the effort to 1) get your names right, 2) make my handouts readable, 3) show up to teach on time, 4) focus on you instead of my text messages, and 5) listen to you speak and offer up discussion on things you might want to talk about.

I only ask that you do the same.