Thursday, October 8, 2015

An Online Teacher Returns to the Physical Classroom

I last taught in a physical classroom in December 2009.  Of course, I've done teaching of sorts since then:  leading retreats, leading a class here and there, presenting information.  But traditional teaching for a school term in a physical classroom?  It's been awhile.

The tradition used to be that when a person was promoted to department chair, that person didn't have to teach for a year.  In 2010, I was promoted to department chair of the General Education department.  I stopped teaching for a year, and for a variety of reasons, I wasn't required to teach again.  Loss of staff meant that more and more non-teaching responsibilities were given to me, and teaching fell away.

Two years ago, I returned to teaching when I was offered the opportunity to teach online classes.  I had issues/worries with online classes, but I could see the way the wind was blowing.  I wanted to have the experience, should I be forced to find another job.  I didn't expect to love it as much as I have come to love it.

I will be interested in seeing how my online teaching has changed the way I approach my physical classroom.  I expect that I will be sending out more e-mails and trying other ways to stay in touch with students and keep them on task.  Our onground classes meet only once a week--it's easy for students to go astray.  I'll use some of the techniques I've learned from online classes to try to keep from losing them.

I've been wrestling with eCompanion, our learning management system.  It's clunky--but then, I have yet to find an elegant LMS.  Maybe clunkiness is a feature, not a bug.

I'm teaching what we call Topics for Composition, a sort of Composition II class.  Instead of using a book of essays as models, I'll be bringing in my own essays.

I think of when I first started teaching writing, back when I was an idealistic grad student.  All those years I had been saying, "If I was the English teacher, I'd run the class this way."  And now I had a class of my own.

I was surrounded by like-minded grad students teaching for the first time.  We talked about writing communities and how to build community in the classroom.  I tried all sorts of peer editing.  I never took my own writing to my students.

For this quarter, I am keeping my class simple, while at the same time, I'm already thinking of ways I could enrich it in the future.

It was good to take a break from teaching.  But the last two years have taught me that I really do love it.  I do have some skills and talents in this direction.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Writing Projects: Short, Linked, Long, Longhand

These past two weeks have been the kind of exhaustion inducing time that makes me wonder if I'll ever write anything interesting again.  In these times, I sometimes wonder if I notice the creative output of others more--is it because I'm feeling like I have so few scraps of creative time that I envy what others are doing? 

Instead, let me see this time as one that contains inspirations for later, when I, too, will have more time.

"I wanted the stories to feel so entwined that if you were to lose any one of them, the rest would sort of fall apart a little bit," says Anthony Marra on his new collection The Tsar of Love and Techno.

I love the idea of these short stories being so entwined that the loss of one of them would diminish the collection.   He  goes on to talk about the collection of short stories as a mix tape that tells a narrative--and he's made a mix tape (OK, not a tape, but a collection of songs) to go with it, available on Spotify.  You can hear the whole interview here.

I've thought of mix tapes and albums before, but usually in terms of books of poetry (see this post).  It's an interesting approach to short story collections too.

On the other end of the spectrum, from short stories to novels, a Facebook friend noted the art project of Tim Youd, who is typing 100 novels in 10 years.  The photo on the home page of his website shows him typing The Sound and the Fury in front of Faulkner's Oxford house.    So far, he's typed 35 novels--only one by a woman, Virginia Woolf.

I think of nineteenth century rhetoricians who had their students write the works of great Greek and Latin writers.  What might we learn by such a project?  Would the pounding of the typewriter keys imprint the work into our brains in a different way than writing by hand?

Tomorrow I meet with a new group of writing students for the first time.  I won't be making them do this, but I'm always intrigued by the idea.  If I gave them an essay that had gotten an A and had them write it out by hand, what would they learn?

I say I won't do this, but maybe I will think about it.  Hmmm.  I won't use a student essay, for reasons of confidentiality.  What published essay might I use.  Hmmm.

What if I used one of my essays that had been published?  Hmm.  I think this might work.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Surreal Monday

Last night, I had a Facebook chat with a friend in Columbia, South Carolina who was waiting to see if she would be evacuated should a dam break.  She lives on a bit of a hill that overlooks the main road, with no lake or river nearby--and she might be evacuated.

In the end, she wasn't.  But how surreal to be exchanging information about the weather, thoughts about how to secure what might be left behind, ideas about how the scenario would end if we transformed it into a movie, chat about how we both couldn't sleep when a storm is in the area--all the while knowing that a knock on the door could come at any moment.

Yesterday was surrealistic in so many ways.  I came to campus prepared to begin getting ready to teach Physics.  But then I heard from the Physics Ph.D. who told me on Friday that he couldn't teach the class.  He said that if we could move it to Wednesday, he could teach it.  I pulled a class list and checked to see how many students already had a class on Wednesday--only 4.  And so, by afternoon, I was making plans to move the class, not to teach it myself.

I felt a bit of sorrow for the stillborn class that I imagined teaching.  Still, it will be better, I hope, for the students to have a class taught by someone with expertise.

Yesterday I also talked to a student who wondered why she failed a class.  She swore she had turned everything in, but her teacher said she hadn't received it.  The student called me an hour later.  Somehow, she had been enrolled in two sections at once, in terms of the student portal and having access to the Learning Management System, and she had uploaded her work to the dropbox of the section in which she wasn't officially enrolled.  Since I'm an administrator, I could access that other section.  Sure enough there was her work--and it had been graded. That fix was an easy one.

Later in the morning,  student walked in to figure out why he had been enrolled in a class that he had already taken.  I couldn't answer that question, as I hadn't done the registering.  But I pulled a degree audit, and sure enough, there he was enrolled in a class that he had already taken.  Again, an easy fix--but thank goodness he realized it on the first day of the quarter, not in week 8.

As he watched me look up information, he looked at the canvases on my wall.  He asked, "Your paintings or your students'?"  When I told him they were mine, he said, "Why don't you sell them?  You could make a lot of money."

That's not a usual reaction to my visual art.

He told me about his neighbor who paints, and it looks like garbage, but he makes 20 grand a painting.  He told me my paintings were better.

He had that manic, barely contained energy that I don't always know how to interpret.  Highly focused student?  Someone who needs to go out and burn off excess energy by running a marathon?  Dangerous?

The day was full of those kinds of encounters.  I went home exhausted.  I had planned to do some work on writing--either writing something or sending out some short stories.  But in the end, I heated up the veggie risotto that I made on Sunday (recipe here) and watched a rerun of Modern Family.  I spent an hour keeping my friend company through her time of waiting to see if she would be evacuated. 

When I knew that she was likely to stay in place, I turned off all the electronics and read for a bit in bed.  Months ago, I ordered Lauren Winner's Clothed by God, but I haven't found time to read it.  Last night I read the first chapter, which includes her interesting discussion of whether or not God stitches clothes of animal skins for Adam and Eve, or whether or not God is actually creating the human skin that they didn't need before they had to leave the Garden of Eden.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of it.  And I'm hopeful that today will be less surreal.

And even if it's not, the situation in South Carolina reminds me that nothing that I'm facing amounts to anything compared to what flood victims must deal with--today and for weeks to come.

Monday, October 5, 2015

A Poet Considers Teaching Physics

I have been spending an enormous amount of time this week-end contemplating teaching Physics.  I found myself with classes to staff after last week's lay-offs, and Physics has been the toughest.  Even if I could find a person, the length of the hiring process means I would still be teaching the class from week 1 to week 2 or 3--that practically a quarter of the class.

As Friday shifted to Saturday, I couldn't sleep.  I thought about the logistics of teaching Physics.  I can easily teach some aspects, but some, like electricity, are harder.  And then I thought, why not bring in guest lecturers?

Many of our faculty are like me:  I can teach a class or two, but not the whole quarter's worth.  Maybe they'd be willing to come in to do a lecture.  Maybe I can even pay them, if they're in the system.

I watched the moon rise as I contemplated teaching Physics.  I thought about the scene as I would present it in a poem or a piece of fiction.  I thought about how the moon has always risen and set, as our human dramas go on.  I tried to sleep, but I couldn't.

On Saturday, I went to the public library to check out some books.  Yes, one of them was Physics for Dummies.  I was astonished to see how many science experiment books exist, along with lots of books to help teachers/parents/students prepare science fair projects.  Yes, I will be checking out those books eventually, if I follow my plan.

I've also been thinking of the first time I taught Scriptwriting for Games.  I knew that I had several classes worth of materials, and I wasn't sure about the rest.  Luckily, I had a great group of students, and they unwittingly helped teach the class.  It was some of the most spirited discussion of creativity and writing and crafting alternate worlds as any I have ever had.

Maybe my Physics class will be the same.

On Sunday, we joined my brother-in-law and his wife for a motorcycle ride through the Keys.  I leaned back and watched the clouds move across the sky.  I thought of waves and currents and how I'd teach that.  I planned out my first week or two or three of classes, as the ride went on.  It was one of the first times during the week-end where I thought, yes, I really could do this.

During the wee small hours of the morning on Saturday, I wrote a Facebook message to a friend.  We're thinking of going to see The Martian, and I joked about being a new Physics teacher and needing to see the movie.

She wrote back this encouragement, which I want to record here:  "And u will do great in physics; it is just like a fairy tale, a set of magic spells to understand and manipulate the universe!"

From her lips to the gods' ears, as we always say (she's Hindu, and it makes me smile when we say that old saying that way).

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Recipe Sunday: A DELICIOUS Veggie Rice Bake

This morning, I thought, I haven't had a vegetable since Thursday.  Hmm.

I had bought ingredients for the dish that I read about in this blog post.  I had several hours before heading out for our Sunday plans.  I thought, why not?

As I was cooking, however, I felt grumpy.  I thought, this is a lot of work, a lot of thin slicing, a lot of dirty dishes.  I thought, this takes longer than I thought it would, and I'm hungry now.  When I slid it in the oven to bake, I thought, I am never making this again.

But then, I had a serving.  I thought, I am too making this again.  I ate another serving.  I could eat the whole pan.

The blog post writer says, "I found it [the recipe] in yet another of my mother's cookbooks, you know, the ones with no author, the ones you'd normally see in a grocery store instead of a bookstore and pass on by without a second glance. This particular one was published by La Repubblica, the newspaper, and is part of a series on regional Italian cooking. The region in this case, Sicily."

Here's the recipe, which would be delicious for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. 

I made these modifications:  I had no capers, so I left them out.  I had no tomatoes, not fresh or canned, so I used 1/4 c of leftover tomato sauce.  I doubled the cheese.  I used 2 red peppers, since that's what I had.

I am surprised that the rice is tender; I was sure there wouldn't be enough liquid.  But it's amazingly good.

Riso al Forno alla Siciliana
Serves 6

320 grams Arborio rice (I used 1 cup plus 3 T.)
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the dish
150* grams caciocavallo or provolone, grated  (I used a mix of provolone, asiago, and mozzarella)
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 small onions, thinly sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
1 red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
2 small eggplants or 1 large one, halved and sliced
3 plum tomatoes, cored and sliced into thin strips
2 tablespoons salted capers, soaked and rinsed
1/4 cup cured black olives, pitted
Red pepper flakes, to taste
8 basil leaves

*150 grams is 5.2 oz.  I used more, at least double, plus a smidge more

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the rice and lower the heat. Simmer for 10 minutes, then drain the rice. Place the rice in a bowl and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Stir in 50 grams of grated cheese. Set aside.

2. Place the remaining olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two, then add the onions, peppers and eggplant. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Then lower the heat to low, cover and stew for 10 minutes.

3. Remove the lid and add the tomatoes. Stir well, then cover again and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

4. Remove the lid, raise the heat to medium-high, add the capers, olives, red pepper flakes and basil leaves. Stir well and cook for a few minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 F/180 C. Oil a baking dish.  (I used a 9 x 13 inch pan, which worked just fine)

6. Place half the rice in the dish evenly. Distribute half the vegetable mixture over the rice evenly. Top with half of the remaining grated cheese. Repeat with the remaining rice, vegetables and cheese. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 25 minutes, until the top is a deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Friday Fragments: A Collage from Administrator Life

Yesterday was a much better day than Tuesday was or Wednesday was.  But I'm still feeling too fragmented to write a cohesive blog post.  Let me collage some fragments together.

--I am happy to report that after an hour of going round and round, we finally got the various cross-listed classes separated and in the right classrooms at the right time.

--But after hours--literally--of working on this issue, I worry what else might be lurking in the computer system.  What surprises await next week as we begin our first week of the fall quarter?

--Yesterday I had a delightful time with my writer friend and colleague.  She loved my story about the gardener on Mars, but she wants more description of how the tomatoes taste.  I loved her latest installation of stories about a class of humans that have interesting powers.  She's got a cool idea that I won't say too much about--but I'm hoping she continues with the idea.

--Next time's word prompt:  grace.  Due date:  mid-December.

--This week I found myself with classes to staff because of the lay-offs.  I anticipated that finding a Physics teacher would be the hardest task.  So I called my counterpart at Brown Mackie College to see if he had some possibilities, and now I have a candidate coming for an interview at 2.  Hurrah!

--I think of myself as being a not-good networker, but maybe that's not really true.

--I'm interested in the stories we tell ourselves and how others actually see us.  I remember when a colleague friend in South Carolina told me I was so creative--it was the first time that someone said that, and I felt surprised that others saw me that way.  I find it interesting that I felt like a non-creative person, even though I wrote on a daily basis. 

--Last night, as we swam in the pool, I thought it must be about 8:30, but it was actually an hour earlier.  The light has shifted.  A month from now it will shift even more dramatically as we go back to Eastern Standard Time.

--I said, "Amazing that we can swim when there's a major hurricane just 90 miles that way."  And we may have beautiful weather this week-end because of that hurricane sucking all the moisture in the air towards it.  I will welcome the end to the oppressive humidity.

--Our friends further up the coast (the Carolinas and Virginia and up) will not escape the moisture, and because of a storm surge and wind due to an offshore hurricane, the rain swollen rivers will not be able to empty into the sea.  Residents may avoid having a major hurricane come ashore, but they may suffer major damage nonetheless.

--While those to our north deal with rain, I will have a week-end with a poolside picnic with good friends, a possible motorcycle trip with family and friends-to-be, and grading of rough drafts. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

DOS Based Systems and Other Communications Breakdowns

Yesterday, we had a wonderful breakfast with our old campus pastor and Religion professor who was in town.  He came to our house, and then we headed to the beach.  We drove because it was a hot and humid morning.  We had a tasty breakfast with a lovely view, although it was scorchingly hot with no breeze.

Over breakfast, we had a great conversation about the value of turning off cell phones so that face-to-face connection can be made.  We talked about the value of church camp, as a way to leave our technology behind for a time.  I left for work feeling nourished in all sorts of ways. 

I had the kind of day at work that does not nourish me, the kind that leaves me wrung out and frayed.  There's the fall-out of having lay-offs on Tuesday and classes starting Monday.  One of my Admissions Committee members is out of commission this week, so yesterday I settled myself to read the back log of essays from prospective students, which was a joy, I must confess.  So much hope and enthusiasm.  One perspective student plans to make half a million dollars by age 25--yes, not all the hope is anchored in realism, but the enthusiasm is still infectious.

Much of the rest of my day was spent trying to communicate with computers--much less satisfying.

Basically, there's one person on campus, the dean who is my boss, who knows how to work CARS, the DOS based system which houses student records, class schedules, and just about everything.  Our registrar, who was the other person who could make CARS do whatever needed to be done and quickly, she left on maternity leave before she had a chance to train the temp, who has never worked with CARS.
So, all yesterday, the other person who sort of knows how to work CARS kept trying to do what I needed to be done--2 classes moved to different room, 2 new classes created, 4 classes cancelled.  Now she has accidentally cross-referenced classes so that their meeting time is not right, and we can't figure out how to fix it.
Today I'll go in early, by 7 a.m., when it's quiet and the dean is less busy, at 7 a.m.,  when it's easy to get tech support from Corporate, should we need it.  And then I'll continue the work of getting students moved from the cancelled classes so that student schedules can be printed by noon.
Yes, students can get their schedules online, but we still make them pick up paper schedules, for reasons that elude me.
It's interesting to consider the modern workplace, which still relies on paper and computer systems from the 70's and 80's to function.  Our faculty are expected to use a much more modern online Learning Management System, but I am sure there are ways to utilize the functionality of the LMS that we haven't even considered yet.
Last night I returned home wrung out and frazzled and spilled hot chili on my shirt.  Luckily I could get it off before it soaked through and burned me.  But it was that kind of night.  Thank goodness I didn't have evening meetings.  I could just sit and eat a nourishing meal made by my spouse and go to bed early.
Today, because I need to leave so early, I've had trouble sleeping.  But that's O.K.  I wrote a poem, and I finished my short story about the gardener on Mars, and I'll get some grading for my online classes done.  Today I'll meet my writing colleague friend for a late breakfast and our short stories, and then I'll also have lunch later with colleagues and friends.
If I'm lucky, maybe in the intersplices, I can get enough work done that I can go home early.