Saturday, March 27, 2010

Some Comments about Friday's Class

So there is a student named X in the MWF 11 AM class who, for lack of a better word, annoys me. She is quite possibly the brightest, most gifted student writer in the class but she is one of those types of students who “knows” that she is a good writer. I’m not sure why she bothers me so much – but I think it has something to do with the fact that she always questions everything that I do, even when she isn’t saying anything. She has never come right out and challenged me – like Y from the evening class – but I can tell that she thinks this class is a waste of her time and there is nothing that I can teach her (and maybe part of me concurs with that on some level because her writing really is that good). But she has asked me for advice on her writing so I am not even sure if this is a fair assessment of her. Am I just getting emotional because I feel threatened by her “apathy” for me, for the course?

This week, the MWF class has been watching the film, Crash. On Monday, I noticed X was reading a book both when I was talking to the class and when the film clips were played. On Wednesday, an opportunity came up for me to talk to her about this when she asked me about the composition scholarship that I oversee on our campus. I told her (rightly) that she is a class leader and that students look to her for “guidance”/ expected behavior. Reading a book sends the wrong message both to me and the others in the class. I knew she had watched the film already about 20 times (she had shared this earlier in the semester) but I needed her to be engaged during our class time. I think she understood where I was coming from as she did put the book away on both Wed and Fri.

So what’s the problem you ask? My concern is a mistake that I have made many times in my teaching career – I start focusing on making one student “happy,” somehow forgetting the other 19 people in the room in the nearly impossible goal of fully persuading an “unhappy” student to “see the light” from my perspective. What made Friday difficult as well as I handed out a reading by Peggy McIntosh, “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” a reading that asks this mostly white class to question their whiteness. Not surprisingly, without even reading the essay, X has problems with the basic premise of this article (she is, by the way, the one student in the class who identifies herself as bi-racial). Her comments – which I cut off a little since I wanted to wait to have the general conversation about this article on Monday – made me feel defensive. And I think students can “smell” this fear. And I get nervous, talk too fast, and … well … generally feel like I am doing a crappy teaching job.

I am also nervous that I am doing this ethnography all wrong – why haven’t I been taking better notes? I originally meant to write detailed notes about each class session immediately after the class finished. That hasn’t worked out so well – I just get so busy all the time; sometimes, I go back to my office and just zone out by clicking on Ebay, Yahoo, or Facebook as a means, I think, of catching my breath. And then somewhere in there I get pulled in other directions with either my other students or the Honors Program. So here is a promise to myself – unless I want to completely fuck this up, I need to be better at writing up my field notes. End of story. No more excuses. I think I am getting some interesting “data” but those observation notes are going to be important later this year when I am trying to piece the whole experience together in my dissertation.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rainy Thursday ....

Glad I got my run in this morning -- perfect weather conditions. Now it's kind of chilly and rainy.

Yesterday's ENG 101 class went well -- we are in the middle of watching and discussing Crash -- in fact, we will finish this whole discussion tomorrow (on Friday). I tried to show students other ways of "seeing" issues in this film other than race (i.e. police behavior, insurance woes, parenting, and anger are examples) so that they will have something to analyze if, for whatever reason, the subject of race is just to much to take on. My hope is that they do, in fact, tackle race -- I think this film does such a great job of bringing together so many complicated ideas (with no easy solution). In case you haven't seen this film, or it's been a long time, here is the trailer from

I'm a huge fan of the film. It's a great visual for bringing the issue of "whiteness" to the table, a concept that is hard for my students to wrap their head around.

Anyway -- that's it for now. This has been a tough week. On Mondays and Tuesdays I teach both day and evening classes (no complaint since this was my choice; I think it's important that FT faculty teach at night too, not just ajunct faculty). Yesterday was long as well since I took a group of students to the St Louis Rep Theater to see a fabulous production of "Crime and Punishment." All I can say is "Wow!" -- a great, great script!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Where is Dissertation Girl?

In my attempt to catch up with my dissertation blogging, it is probably not a good idea to sit down at 10:11 PM, after just walking in the door after a long day at SWIC. But here goes -- I can't believe how tight my schedule has recently gotten!

But first -- let's review Spring Break. I was busy the first weekend of the break: some general catching up with house cleaning, the St Partick's 5 mile run, volunteering at a trivia night fund raiser. And then I left for Louisville, Kentucky for 4C's (the Conference on College Composition and Communication), I conference I have attended pretty much every year for the past 10+ years. I LOVE this conference -- it always provides a great opportunity to connect with other English types and to get in on relevant English teaching conversations. This year I presented at the Research Network Forum (RNF), an exhausting but fabulous experience (I promise to blog about this seperately as I got some useful feedback on my dissertation). Also, since Jim cut our cable, I was able to catch up on mindless television and get the entire bed to myself for a few nights. :D This past Sunday morning, I ran the Quivering Quads Trail Half Marathon, the most difficult physical race I have ever done (finishing in about 3 hours and 34 minutes!).

And now post-Spring Break! Classes just started up again yesterday but it feels like life pressed the Fast Forward button and I am still hovering over the Pause button. Both 101 classes looked at the film Crash yesterday (the evening class watched -- and discussed -- the entire film while the MWF saw the first third). Their third essay assignment (simply put) asks them to analyze the film in terms of all the readings that we have been doing this semester on race/ diversity/ etc. I think both classes seem receptive to what's going on but I feel like I am tired and worn out. I hate feeling like I am faking enthusiasm but that's pretty much what I am doing. Both classes were wonderful yesterday so that "faking feeling" makes me feel a wee bit on the guilty side as a teacher.

Mondays and Tuesdays are my toughest days since I teach both day and evening classes but I am not over the hurdle of this week yet. Tomorrow I am taking a group of students to the St Louis Rep to see a production of "Crime and Punishment" (and squeezing in a hair appointment in the afternoon). Thursday I spend the whole afternoon working the Bridge downtown; Thursday evening I have to go shopping for the wedding shower I am throwing for one of my fabulous friends at our place on Friday night. Saturday morning I have to be at the clinic by 7:30 AM but .... the weekend is looking pretty open after that! So I see sleep in my future!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mid Week Blues

So this darn flu bug going around has caught up with me, making working out and running impossible which means ... Dianna is grumpy. I am going to try my regular 5 AM run in the morning tomorrow and see what happens. At this point, I have to do something. And at any rate, I have the St Patrick's Day 5 mile race on Saturday morning so I need to get my legs moving!

And it's not just the flu bug slowing me down but I seem to have gotten myself caught up in some sort of friend drama with, well, a "friend" who has made it perfectly clear she doesn't want to be my friend anymore which makes me sad and a little angry. I have already apologized and been told that things were fine (and obviously they are not) so I know there isn't much else I can do. I can't change someone's thinking. I just have to go on being Dianna: slightly humorous, enormously imperfect, always incredibly desiring to be a better teacher, and wishfully wanting the world to be peaceful and happy. With the FT teaching, the FT graduate work, the two volunteer jobs, and a delighfully supportive husband, I am lucky with what I have in my life. I just know that I have to get past the whole drama that makes me think back to the unpopular kid I was in high school (Isn't it strange how that "ghost" is always lurking around the corner?!)

The MWF 101 class went so well today -- we were looking at drafts from two students in the class and all of the students appeared to have fun with critiquing both papers (one about the gender issues in Spongebob Squarepants and the other about the politicalization of hair in Chris Rock's Good Hair). In fact, I had to stop the class when the time period was over instead of everyone getting their bookbags on as they get ready to pounce out the door. Cool.

I won't see the Monday evening class again until after Spring Break and I will only see the MWF class one more time -- on Friday -- before the break. All of the students in both sections will be turning their essays in for me to read while classes are out. I am planning some much needed sleep, catching up on graduate reading, grading papers, and then I will be off at 4C's (Conference on College Composition and Communication) in Louisville, KY, for a good portion of the week where I will be presenting a paper. Fun times!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Long Promised Review of DAWN OF THE DREADFULS

Quick pause from dissertation stuff ....

I am a girl who loves her zombies; Shaun of the Dead has to be the best film ever made! But what about zombies invading my pleasant reading life of British novels? Though I was hesitant when the first zombie-themed Jane Austen edition came out – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) – I read it quickly, “devouring” every morsel of Elizabeth Bennett’s skills as a martial arts fighter against the “unmentionables.” I truly wanted to hate it – but how could I? The juxtaposition of the familiar (the real P&P is one of my favorite novels of all time!) with ludicrous horror simply made me laugh out loud. Seriously – how often does a book come along that makes a person laugh, cry, shout, and cheer?

So here is my confession -- I LOVE this new "take" on Austen. I really think Jane Austen herself would have seen the humor in this re-seeing of her work. And she would have been even more joyful at the newest member of the family, Dawn of the Dead, the prequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Set four years before the start of P&P&Z, we see the five Bennett sisters transition from English gentlewomen into zombie warriors. The book opens with a funeral “gone bad” and before we know it, we readers are knee deep in body parts and “unmentionables” (the ladylike way of referring to the undead!). I read this 287 page book in one sitting – I couldn’t put it down. Anyone who knows my busy life (teacher, graduate student, wife, marathoner, etc) also knows that it takes something powerful to get me to slow down for more than a few minutes. This book did it. I feel honored to have received a preview copy of the novel (for free!) with the understanding that I would review it on my blog. So here it is – you have to read this book. If you don’t, I will send a few zombies your direction!

Please go here for a cool contest! And make sure to mention my blog!

Each Prize Package has a value of $100+ and includes: An advance copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, Audio Books of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, A password redeemable online for sample audio chapters of Dawn of the Dreadfuls, An awesome Dawn of the Dreadfuls Poster, A Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Journal, A box set of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Postcards!

I hope someone I know wins of these 50 prizes! :D

Monday, March 8, 2010

Writing Workshop Comments

The MWF class went so well this morning! This week, several students are bringing in drafts of essay #2, the infamous media analysis assignment. I think this assignment seems so hard because they look at a word like "analyze" and they just freeze. And then when I throw in terms like "race," "class," and "gender," well, they all just look at me hoping that I will tell them exactly what to write.

Since so many of the students have come to me with questions about the assignment (a good thing!), I came to class prepared to tease this assignment out a little more -- I brought the first page from three essays from the past and we talked about the argument that each paper was proposing. Not only did this discussion go well, but the two folks who brought essays -- we will call them Student A and Student B -- helped even more by sharing two thoughful works-in-progress. Student A looked at comedian Jeff Dunham and his apparently stereotyped puppets, and Student B analyzed Bill Cosby's controversial speech in which he was later attacked by the African American community. The result was a fabulous dicussion where we talked about essay organization, better wording for a thesis/ argument, and proofreading and editing. For the most part, this class works so well with each other! :>

UPDATE FROM MONDAY EVENING CLASS: No problems here either -- we looked at four pretty solid drafts (including one in which the student pulled off sarcasm, not an easy thing to do!) and had a useful discussion, I think, as to how each writer could better articulate both argument and support. The evening class, at this point, has a bit more diversity of opinion so this class tends to have more discussions about different ways of seeing someone's argument. For example, a few students had heated opinions about one writer's comments about Chris Rock's Good Hair --I think the dissention was a good thing but I haven't noticed those differences of opinion as much in the MWF class.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Today was probably the most difficult run I have even done in my life -- and if you give me a minute, I will try and relate how or why I think this run has anything to do with my dissertation.

As many of you may already know, I am a huge fan of running -- 14 marathons so far and I can't tell you how many half-marathons, 10K's, 5 K's, and assorted other races (in the last month, I have added two triathlons to my "athletic resume"). But, as many of you already know, I have been dealing with severe Plantar Fasciitus on both feet (mostly the left heel though), making running painful and not nearly as much fun as it used to be. I started running in 2001 as a way of losing 80 pounds and somewhere along the way I got terribly addicted.

So here is the deal -- there is this cool trail run called "The Quivering Quads" -- a half-marathon that is a "trail run" (i.e. through the paths of Cuivre River State Park about an hour and a half north of downtown St Louis). If there is anything that makes my heel hurt more than anything else, it is uneven terrain. Here is the description from the Fleet Feet Web site: "The race was regularly featured in Ultrarunning Magazine and earned mention in Kirk Johnson’s 2001 book To the Edge, which documented the world of ultramarathoning. The race went into hiatus after 2003 ..." and now it's back! How could I NOT run this?! I knew the race was going to open up entries on a certain day and I knew those 400 slots would be filled quickly. So I signed up.

Today was one of the two familiarization runs so that folks could get a feel for the trails. Oh. My. God. My foot only lasted about three miles before every stone and every twig under my shoe was reason for shooting pain (along with a new pain on the top of my left foot that I have never felt before!). I had wonderful company the first couple of miles and met some new -- super cool! -- people. But by about mile 3 I was running completely along. Almost everyone was in front of me. This is a trail I have never run before -- and the trail was hard to follow (thankfully there were blue pieces of tape here and there to help us figure out the path which seemed almost unmarked at times). So there I was, grimacing in pain every few steps, tripping over rocks on a regular basis, a little scared because I was running all by myself.

So this is pretty much like the dissertation process, right? I have this wonderful support group behind the scenes (including a fabulous graduate advisor and a husband with more patience than anyone I know), but really I am pretty much out there all by myself. Sorta like me and those woods. Danger lurks -- i.e. students keep me busy so my research doesn't happen, I can't keep up with the readings I need to get done -- or the writing. I keep finding blue pieces of tape every now and then, guiding me in this whole process, but a lot of the time the path is NOT marked. I stumble, over and over. I trip over everything in sight (including a packed schedule that I pretty much did to myself) and the pain of being stressed out sometimes feels like the sharp physical reminder in my heel when I run.

So in two weeks, I get to do what I did today but more than double the distance. I have no idea how I am going to pull this off (my a** and my heel are both throbbing and I can only master a hobble at this point). But I often don't think I can get this research done and the dissertation written either. I am just not one of the smart people. So maybe gettting through to the finish line will give me a boost. Or maybe I will pass out before getting there!

So that's what is on my mind tonight. I promise to get back to documenting the research tomorrow. My students in both classes are busily working on essay #2, a media analysis in which I asked them to focus on race, class, or gender. These are what I will be reading during Spring Break (which starts at the end of this week!).