Sunday, January 31, 2010

Busy Weekend

Nothing too much happened in class on Friday -- I need to test my electronic voice recorder and planned on using it on Friday as a "practice run" since the class was going to focus on basic essay organization and not talk about race. But not only did I forget the stupid voice recorder in my office but then our class unexpectantly got sidetracked on our first moment of dissention. One of my older students questioned the validity of our first assignment (racial autobiography)and for a few minutes I sort of had to defend why I asked the students to go this direction. It happened fast -- but this would have been the perfect time to have listened to the conversation outside of class instead of sort of remembering what happened. All I can sat is that I responded to the student's question and I think I did it in a way that was useful for everyone. I just wish I had remembered the voice recorder ...

Tomorrow is the second meeting of the Monday evening class. I really want to rock their socks off.

Jim has been at a photography seminar all weekend. I have been cleaning my desk, organizing research articles, cleaning up the house, and today I need to respond to the diagnostic essays from the Monday night class ... And catch up on the reading for my two lit classes. Last night we had a fabulous time at our friend's trivia event and this morning, Stella and I went for a long run. Is tomorrow Monday already?!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Nothing Too Exciting Today!

Not much to say about the MWF class today -- we didn't really talk about race so much. Instead, we discussed the diagnostic essays that they did on the second day. Our discussion focused on basic elements that good essays have -- such as a point/ argument and then supporting evidence/ discussion. We also covered the "fun stuff" like basic types of grammatical problems and writing style issues (tone, wordiness, etc). I didn't think this would take the entire class but these folks had lots of questions and we had a good time! Afterwards, we spent the rest of the class on logistical concerns -- I needed to make sure everyone was comfortable with using our class web site and I wanted them to respond to the first writing prompt I posted (mostly to make sure that they get the idea of posting comments!). And that's it! A writing intensive day!

As a researcher, I am now trying to "code" their diagnostic essays (I made copies of all of them) -- I am surprised -- and delighted -- that most of them seem thoughtful on the issue of race and are expressing no resentment or hostility about the topic yet. But the semester is young, I suppose! (and I haven't done the essays from the Monday evening class yet!) :D

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dianna -- Meet Frustration! Frustration -- Meet Dianna!

A bit of aggravation. Like the MWF class, I was a bit nervous tonight, mostly because there was so much information to cover since we had the MLK Jr holiday last week and there was no class. So I am trying to cover everything the MWF class was trying to do AND come across as confident and “together”! I noticed right away that this class seemed a bit more hostile to the course theme and this was making me ever more nervous! (some folks had their eyes on the ground or just had that “bored” look on their faces). Somehow I stumbled through the class while keeping my enthusiasm up …. We went through a ton of material about the class culminating with a quick diagnostic essay response so that I could get an idea of what each student’s writing is like (I will give them some feedback and return it next week so they have a sense of what I am like as a writing teacher).

Because the grant provides each student with a Flash Drive, I asked them to save their work on their brand new Flash Drives after making a hard copy for me to read over the next few days. Many of the students had never used a Flash Drive before so I spent some time at the end of class working individually with the students who needed help with this. And all of a sudden it was 6:50, the end of the class. By 6:55 I was still working with students when the English instructor for the 7 PM class walked into the room. I didn’t notice her at first because I was trying to get my students out the door. I guess the English lab assistant must be enrolled in her class because she asked if she could erase the Whiteboard (where our class had earlier did some brainstorming). First, you have to know that I am not crazy about this student lab assistant. There’s a whole story there that I won’t get into but I was taken by surprise that she popped in (seemingly out of the blue!) and made this request – and then I noticed the next English teacher (an adjunct I have never met) standing there with her arms crossed. I apologized for running late and she didn’t say a word to me. Nada. Just stood there with her arms crossed. I got the last 2-3 students out of there as soon as I could but I hate feeling rushed like that, especially when someone is staring at me and seemingly thinking evil thoughts about yours truly.

So I am not sure this class was very successful. I couldn’t get a good sense of how the students felt. I hate that this class meets only once a week – but there’s always next week, eh?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Is it Sunday Night Already?!

So here's a lovely problem. I have 15 students in the MWF ENG 101 class and 14 of them indicated on an optional information sheet I had them fill out on Friday that they would be willing to let me interview them outside of class to help me with my research. I thought I would be lucky if 2 or 3 students were willing; now I have to figure out which students to concentrate on. I don't know any of them very well yet so I think I will wait another week or two before narrowing down my search (talkative students would be great!).

I also finished writing up their first essay assignment today -- a racial autobiography (an assignment I have never used before!). I used a hodge-podge of examples from other teachers but did some major tweaking to make it work for what I wanted the students to do (and trying to keep the assignment as fitting for something they might typically do in an ENG 101 class). I will have more to say about this once I introduce it to the students tomorrow. I also meet with the Monday evening ENG 101 class for the first time tomorrow so I should have tons of interesting tibits to pass along by the time I write in this blog again!

Nothing exciting this past weekend. I worked at Hope on Saturday morning, spent the afternoon cleaning the house and reading essays, and the evening at the local Irish pub. Stella, the wonder pooch, let me sleep in until 8:30 AM this morning (not a usual thing for her!) and Jim went off to work on his photography while I met with Kristina, my kick butt trainer and friend. And that's it! I am not ready to take on Monday! :D

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Case of Nerves

Today was the second day that I met with the ENG 101 class that meets on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. So here is the problem that I had today, the second meeting: I keep getting nervous.

I am often nervous on the first day of class with all of my classes but that usually starts to go away somewhere in the middle of the first class meeting. The students start to respond to my stupid jokes and maybe they figure out pretty quickly that I love my job and will do my best to help them succeed. Maybe they decide -- or at least many of them decide --that this class won't be as bad as they think. I don't know -- whatever it is, I usually (though not always) start to get a good vibe going by the end of the first class.

Not so with the ENG 101 class and I think this is due, in part, to my continued nervousness about the research I am doing "on" the class. It's not just that the topic of the course is on race, a potentially volatile topic (What if a fight breaks out in class? It's not like race is an easy topic to broach in Granite City). But my nervousness goes deeper -- I am worried about learning the students' names ASAP so my research notes will be accurate. Or that somehow I won't "capture" the right things in class. Or that somehow I will steer the class terribly wrong. Or that the students will smell my fear.

Because of a Title III grant, I was able to get free books (and flash drives!) for all the students. I handed out the texts at the end of the first day and asked them to read the first 16 pages of Black Like Me, the fabulous docu-text by John Howard Griffen (a man I greatly admire). I started the class by asking the students what they thought -- most of their comments were on the positive side, in the sense that they had something to say (not always something I see on the second day of a class). But during this entire (short) discussion, I kept having this out-of-body experience where I was watching myself, wondering what should I remember for later? Is there something important I should be steering my students toward at this point? Are the students convinced that talking about race will help their writing? What is the name of the student who is talking anyway? So I didn't enjoy the dicussion at all -- and I don't think I was a good teacher either. I wasn't really "listening" to what they were saying because I had this meta-discussion going on inside my head.

So, once again, it came down to nerves. Thankfully, the discussion was short (about 15 minutes). I asked students to spend the rest of the class writing up what they thought about the question "Does Race Matter?" (and to use anything in Griffen's book to respond to). At the beginning of every course I ask students to write up a diagnostic essay, a sample of their writing so I can see what stength and weaknesses they might have -- and they get a sense of how I respond to students papers as well. Today most of the students finished right up at the end of the class period (usually with a diagnistic I see students rushing to get out ASAP; I haven't looked at the diagnostic essays yet but a glimpse showed some interesting thoughts). The students also handed back a student information sheet I asked them to answer and, other than one student, all expressed interest in having me interview them outside of class (a good thing!).

Before the class meets, I am in my office for an hour (after my earlier class). Today, almost at the last minute, I listened (on my ipod) to Farihi from the Laya Project, one of my favorite tunes (see the video I posted below!). I think that helped a little. I guess I just need to breath and relax a bit more. Teaching is fun for me -- I just need to focus on that a little more!

Note: I haven't had a chance to get nervous about the second ENG 101 class I am researching because that course meets on late Monday afternoons and because of the MLK holiday earlier we haven't had a class meeting yet.

In other news -- Odd vet visit. I took Zora, our oldest cat (I have had her since my graduate student days in Washington), to the vet for a check-up. She hadn't been in a long time (she's a housecat after all!) and so this was her first visit to our new vet since we moved downtown (only three blocks from our loft!). This vet was surprised at Zora's age (almost 13) since she has tested positive for the FIV virus (like the HIV virus in humans). Sheri, the vet, said FIV cats don't usually live this long. To make a long story short, she took some blood tests and it turns out Zora does not have FIV. She showed me the blood workup (what I could understand of it!). The other vet made a mistake (she was diagnosed about 5 years ago when we lived in North County). She is healthy (other than being a bit blind). I was shocked! And happy! Zora is my rock -- she sleeps with me, reads with me on the couch, and sits on my lap when I am working at my desk (like right now).

So, there you go. That was how the day went. Tomorrow I volunteer at the clinic early (I have worked at the Hope Clinic for Women for about 4 years now on every Saturday morning helping women do paperwork). Since it's the weekend of the Roe V. Wade decision, I am suspecting that we will have more than the usual crowd of crazies tomorrow. And I will spend the afternoon reading those diagnostic essays from the 101 class! :D

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Geeze it's late!

I only have a minute -- I absolutely need to make sure that I make time to make notes about what is happening in the class I am researching. But I am so tired tonight! I was up early, teaching by 9:00 (I love my developmental English class which meets at this time!) and then I have the ENG 101 class I am researching at 11 AM. Not sure how the class went over on the first day -- because I needed to explain that the class would be using race as the focus of all writing assingments (and I needed to explain that I was going to be doing research "on" them all semester and I needed them to sign consent forms) -- I was just super nervous, not my usual self. But I think it was OK, just not my best first day! I will talk more about this class when I see them on Friday.

In the meantime -- bed! I worked with my personal trainer this afternoon, did some errands, helped Jim with his photography mounting, cand reated some assignments for some classes tomorrow. I have an early morning 5:15 AM run scheduled tomorrow morning! :D

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

And I got my Magners!

Quick update -- my evening class is going to be great I think! Great students who immediately got into a discussion on ethnocentrism and seemed pretty open about the class goals. They have to read the first 80 pages or so of Buchi Emecheta's novel The Joys of Motherhood by next week (and write a short response paper) so I guess that will be the true test!

I managed to make it to the Dubliner tonight to catch the final half of trivia play -- the team was already in first place (these guys are fab!) and we managed to hang on to the lead and take first place ($40 beautiful dollars in bar tab!). And I got my Magners! Now off to bed after a long day that started with an early morning foggy run! :D

Tuesday Afternoon

Two classes down for the day and one more to go. On Tuesdays I teach an American Lit class at 9:30 AM and then a developmental writing course right after at 11 AM. I am done by 12:15 PM and then I hang out in my office until my Lit 205 (Non-Western Literature) class meets at 6:30 PM (goes until 9:20!). I actually sort of like this schedule -- lots of time off in the afternoon to catch up on readings and prepare for classes later in the week. It would just be too much of a hassle to drive back into the city ...

The two classes I will be doing research on don't meet until tomorrow (a Mon/ Wed/ Fri class at 11:00 AM) and then next Monday evening (from 4:00-6:50 PM). So I am glad that I will meet with my regular sessions before jumping into the other two classes which have so much more at stake. So far, though, both of my morning classes went well -- and both are pretty much crammed with people!

After class on Tuesday nights, I will be trying to get out of here as soon as I can because usually on Tuesday nights I play trivia with a group of friends (and Jim!) at the Dubliner, the fantastically cool Irish pub just around the corner from our place downtown. It starts at 9 PM so they should still be going strong by the time I get there (Go Team Syndicate! Our team rocks!). I think it's going to be important to try and make sure I relax a bit this semester and certainly trivia is something I don't want to give up. And I need my weekly dose of Magners! (hard, delicious cider!).

So I am going to spend the rest of the afternoon catching up on the paperwork on my desk. I guess I should probably clean it .... nah, how would I ever find anything?!

Monday, January 18, 2010

It all starts tomorrow!

So ... tomorrow. The first day of the new semester. This semester isn't exactly like semesters in the past. After spending all of last semester writing a prospectus for my doctoral research, I am now spending this semester doing all the research. And this makes me nervous! What if I mess up my collection of data? What happens if I realize that my proposed hypothesis doesn't work? (I've left a short description of my data in a sidebar to the right, by the way!).

So there is at least one word anyone who reads this blog needs to understand: My dissertation is an "ethnography" -- the study of human social phenomena and communities, primarily through the method of field research (taking detailed observation notes, interviewing, etc.). You basically live among the people you are researching. In my case, I will be "living" with my students in the same classroom for 16 weeks and I will document how the two classes deal with such a loaded topic as race and how it affects their thinking and writing. Just FYI: We English types actually "stole" this method of research from the anthropologists -- personally, I like the "readability" of such research; you as the researcher become an integral part of the analysis.

On a somewhat related topic -- Yesterday I went to the race exhibit that just opened up at the Missouri History Museum called "Race: Are We So Different?" -- though race has no biological basis (little difference in genes among different "races") -- race is a powerful concept that shapes how we see people and our world. Here is the direct link to the exhibit: I was relieved when I went through it yesterday that much of the information centers around texts and scholars that I am familiar with -- so ... maybe I will be more comfortable with the loaded topic of race as I help my students become better college writers (I was afraid I would walk through the exhibit and have no idea what was going on!).

But in the meantime, how will I spend my last day of "leisure"? Well, I have already been to the gym pounding out miles on the elliptical even though my feet are killing me (Plantar Fasciitus woes!). And now Jim and I are going to meet our pals Peggy and Gene at the Chase Park Plaza to see the Colin Firth film, "A Single Man." All I know is that the film is about an English professor and it stars Colin Firth. What else do I need to know?! (Colin Firth is downright to sexiest man EVER -- OK, maybe the second sexiest next to my husband!).

LATE AFTERNOON UPDATE: Wow. The film was fabulous. I think it's one of those stories that just stay with you, long after you left the theater (I MUST read the book!). I was shocked at the ending -- and even cried a little. Not sure if those was the uplift that I needed nefore the semester starts! (though Jim and I went to Cupcakery before coming home -- they make the BEST Peanut Butter Cup Cupcakes --