Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Short Wednesday Update!

The students in both classes are busily working on essay #4 right now so we are spending time this week discussing specific writing issues that the students have been struggling with in their essays recently: modifier issues, parallelism, pronoun use, and commonly confused words. I think we need this "break" so we can concentrate on something other than "race" and "touchy topics." And that's about it! Nothing too exciting going on as far as my observations but I am stressing a bit on my end as far as what I need to get done to work on this dissertation and, as always, money issues. I think I need to take some credit hours this summer (since I need 24 dissertation hours altogether) but I am not sure if that is an expense I can take on at this moment.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Whoops! Has it Been a Week?

My apologies to anyone following this blog -- I know it has been almost a week since my last update. But last week was probably the worst week of my professional life -- lots of student complaints (both formal and informal) and I was starting to feel angry every time a student told me "I can't turn in my essay because X" or "I need to leave class early because X." I simply ran out of patience, I guess. This has been a tough semester in general but I think last week I reached a crisis moment.

The two research classes are going fine -- the Monday night class was a delight last week but the MWF continues to have some problems because of Student L and some overall "bad vibes" in the class. I am pretty sure this is a personality thing and I am pushing myself to find creative, fun ways of engaging with the students and, hopefully, ending the semester on a positive note. Sometimes this happens in one class but this semester there are two classes (the other is a lit course) in which I am stressed trying to connect with all the students. In good news, I have had two fantastic weeks with the developmental course that struggled to turn work in on time. A few students dropped and now the vibes are better; I think these folks really understand that the portfolio assessment is coming up and so much rides on their essays.

I spent today doing lots of physical stuff -- a 5K with Stella (the running dog!) in the rain earlier, cleaning the house from top to bottom, and then 25 miles in a bike. I wish I had gotten more work-work done but I think I needed the break. Bring on Monday! :D

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday Morning Update

Let me start by saying that I think most teachers are so delighted when a quiet student actually says something in class .... and that happened today. It wasn't just that a quiet student talked -- but it was also that one of the few students of color in the class was willing to jump (head first) into what could have been a difficult dicussion.

We started the MWF ENG 101 class today by talking about a newspaper article titled "White Girl" Click here for a link to the article and the comments resulting from the article.

So here is one of the mini-conversations that happened in class: Student J mentioned that as a white man of 2010, he didn't think it was fair that he should be held accountable for the sins of slavery, something that actually happened before his family even immigrated to the US. Student E, an African American student who has said little in class, actually jumped in and refuted, a little, of what Student J had to say (and the conversation between the two of them, by the way, was open, friendly, and warm). She said, in a nut shell, that she and her family still feel the effects of slavery today. She has discovered that her great grandfather (or maybe great-great?) was born in slavery and this was something the family never talked about and that even this silence has an impact on the psychological wholeness of the family. So she was refuting Student J's idea that we shouldn't be held accountable for what someone in our past has done. We never resolved to any degree what we should do about history -- but there was a consensus that an authentic education somehow could negate things outside of our control.

I think this dissention was a good one -- both students offered interesting and valid positions and the result (I think!) was a healthy and useful discussion (with no real resolution -- not necessarily a bad thing). I hope the evening class goes as well! :D

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Some Good Moments!

First, I have to say it is so cool to actually have readers who are responding back with fantastic comments and feedback (both here and on Faecbook)! Thank you soooooooo much! More than anything else in the world, I would like a dissertation that is thoughtful and useful to the rest of the world!

So an update on the situation from Monday night. I talked with Student A over email and ended up finding a time we could both meet -- last night at 6 PM -- and I think we have most everything resolved. I think she understood why I was angry about her comments and once I read the entire document, I saw the beginning of an interesting idea (just not developed, of course). So we focused our discussion there and she will bring her next draft of it to me on Monday.

And then on to the other "problem": The MWF class is meeting me for conferences this week -- yesterday (Wed) and tomorrow (Fri). I saw most of the class yesterday and was able to have an honest discussion with Student L about her often unprofessional behaviour in our class. She made it clear that she thinks she is smarter than the other members of the class -- and me (that could be true actually!). I guess this situation isn't really "resolved" -- more like "acknowledge." She sees where I am coming from and now I know for sure where she is coming from. After she left, my student worker asked if she could talk with me -- apparently, Student L was pretty rude to her when asked to wait since I was already talking with another student when she arrived. As it turns out, my student worker knew her in high school and said Student L had problems with every teacher at Granite and eventually ended up being homeschooled because many of the teachers who wouldn't work with her. Now this is all "gossip" from my student worker but I could so see this being close to the truth. Though Student L is a brilliant writer, she isn't the nicest person in the world.

Generally, though, the conferences yesterday went well and I think touching base with all the students individually is an effective way of ensuring that there are no other major problems going on below the surface. I still have a few more conferences tomorrow .....

And -- finally success in my developmental writing class that meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I've been having problems with attendance, professionalism, and enthusiasm with this class from day one (complicated by the presence of deaf students -- who are fantastic people -- but I think something about writing is being lost in the translation from English to ASL). Anyway, we had a solid discussion about some drafts brought to class by a couple of stuents and the ensuing discussion was fun! Students were actually talking to each other about focus and support! I think they know the portfolio grading we do here at SWIC is coming soon and maybe that was enought to "light a fire" under the before mentioned butts!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Grouchy Monday

So I am sure my dear readers are wondering why I am calling this entry "Grouchy Monday" .... it's been a hell of a day. Keep a few things in mind. I ran the St Louis Half Marathon yesterday with a bum foot and today my body hurts worse than any of the 14 full marathons I have done. Not sure what's going on there. And then I drank a little too much wine at my sister-in-law's birthday party (at a winery, of course) and so I woke up feeling not quite tip-top. I am pretty sure I drank too much wine because I am feeling completely stressed out by my job and my graduate work. I am not sure that my research is working out AND so many students this semester keep walking into class late, giving me reasons why essays can't be turned in on time, and generally insisting that I am being too hard.

Which leads to today. Papers were due so, as you might guess, lots of calls and emails about why papers wouldn't be turned in. In the MWF ENG 101 class this morning we talked about the new assignment and students watched one version of Jane Elliott's Blue Eye/ Brown Eye experiment (click here for more info!). Student L, one of my harshest critics this semester, was clear (after watching the video) that she had major problems with Elliott's work. Her blog entry was all about how racism is not a big deal anymore and I am trying to make a topic more than what it is (I don't know if this is important but Student L is biracial). This is the same student who has questioned me on everything this semester -- everything.

And then when I was trying to hastily get everything ready for my 4 PM class, Student A from the 4 PM class emailed me her paper and when I glanced at it as it was priting off, I saw my name. Why would my name be in the middle of her essay? Here is what she said:

"Dianna I’m sorry but the more I write the more I just want to be racist myself this is our third essay on race and I honestly have nothing else to say about it and I also didn’t really get this assignment please don’t be mad and if you want to give me an F then it’s cool but hopefully you will let me write about something other than race so I don’t fail the class. Please email me back because I really don’t want to talk about this in person. I’m sorry please let me write about something else I’m begging you. Thanks."

I check in with students all the time and she has never expressed any concern about having problems coming up with an idea -- besides the fact that as a class we have talked about different approaches to this Crash assignment, approaches that didn't need to talk about race. And so now she is telling me this, minutes before the essay is due? Seriously? During the class tonight she expressed the same opinion as Student L from the MWF class. When I (and a student in the class) pointed out that maybe her white privilege was inhibiting her from seeing beyind her subject position, I could tell she was angry (which I can understand). She thinks racism is dead and Jane Elliott's experiment is "outdated" and "stupid." When I asked to talk with her at the end of class, she burst out in tears when I told her that she will not survive college if she doesn't turn work in on time and ask for help when she needs it. She just seemed so offended that I wasn't willing to work with her. Which I am, of course! I told her to come by my office so we could brainstorm other ideas for the paper (though I wish we could have done this before the essay was due!).

Student A appeared so put out by the whole thing as if I should just let her slide on the paper. But I am not going to let that happen. I do think that students should be a little offended (or maybe even a lot) by what they encounter in college. I want them to think, even if it's not what I think! But how can they do this if they aren't willing to put in the real hard work that college requires? Writing a solid essay is not easy! You have to be willing to think about your rhetorical stance and you have to be willing to carefully proofread and edit your work. Or maybe I should create a cushy, loving class environment where we all just hold hands and sing camp songs together?

Friday, April 9, 2010


So I did something a little strange with the MWF class today. I shared an online article with them -- click here if you would like to look at it. So what is the "strange" part, you ask dear readers? The article is called "The Rhetoric of Abortion: Reflections from a Former Pro-Life Activist" by Elizabeth Wardle (the article actually came to my attention a few days ago via the WPA list serve). Why would I purposely bring up the touchy topic of abortion in a class that is already struggling with a touchy topic?

I think the essay, as a rhetorical whole, gets at the "gray area" that I am encouraging my students to seek. In the article, Wardle talks about growing up with a religious family that identified itself as being "pro-life" but "college showed me that life is full of gray." Later she starts to question her original position and "the more [she] learned, the more [she] began to let go of [her] carefully held certainties." Today she still identifies herself as a Christian and someone who would like to see "a new discussion" that "employs ner terms, contexts, and standards..." She wants to more proactive instead of reactive. So in our class, students are saying a lot of things like "I am not racist because I don't do anything racist to other people." What they don't consider is the fact that if they are marked with white skin, they might (if you go along with Peggy McIntosh) get unearned privileges in our (racist) society. So it's too simple to just say that an individual herself/ himself is not racist. It's more complicated than that. Just like when folks get into fist fights about where life starts (at conception? at birth?). Abortion is more complicated than just that one question. I just want students to see that the issue of race is just as dense and "gray" as an authentic discussion about abortion.

I think it sort of worked. There is one bright young woman in the class, Student L, who resists me on anything I say (she identifies herself as mixed race by the way). She said in class a few minutes ago that my analogy didn't work. There aren't two sides to the issue of race like you might see in abortion. True, but the gray area works (and wouldn't there still be two sides if you see Amercians complaining that some folks make too much of race and other Americans say that we haven't made enough of race?). Anyway, I am still thinking this through. Of course, Student L raised an interesting point and I am happy, on one hand, that she feels comfortable enough to really "fight" with me. I just wish it wasn't every single thing that I said in class! :D

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"A Sense of Hostility"

What a busy week ... it has taken me forever to find a few minutes and comment on what has been going on this week in the two ENG 101 classes that I am researching. Seriously, I need to get much better at sitting down and taking notes right away -- not a few days later.

So the Monday night class had a "race moment." This class started with 20 people but I am losing people (I think there are about 15-16 people now). Anyway, there is now only one student who is not white. I will call her Student S. Last week, as you might remember, we looked at Peggy McIntosh's "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack," an article that asks us readers to think about the power of white privelege. Lots of students talked in class, but I remember noticing that Student S was saying nothing. I certainly was not going to call her out in front of the entire class and make her say something that would put her in the position of "representing her entire race" (one of the many dangers that McIntosh actually talks about in her essay). But I just remember thinking that Student S didn't say anything at all.

When she came to class on Monday night, Student S brought copies of her current essay to share with the entire class (an assignment that all my students have to complete at least once every semester). In this way, we all get the chance to read a student text and then comment on that text. The current essay assignment asks students to talk about the film Crash in some way (analzyze a scene and/ or make a personal connection). One other student also brought copies to class and we tead that one first, followed by Student S's paper. Her essay, though, shocked the class. She made comments about the atmosphere of the class. Here are a few sentences from her paper:

"I remember running down the hall to my English class; this class gave me a sense of hostility because of the conversations and work assignments we had. Entering the class I noticed I was the only black student, again. In addition, I had an excruciating migraine. For that reason, I didn't feel like having a discussion on the assigned reading. The teacher started passing out our papers for the day. We started to scan an article on white privilege .... After the reading, I listened to all the remarks made by the white students. I felt uncomfortable, humiliated, and insulted. Nobody stopped to consider my feelings ...."

I admit that when I was reading this essay silently, before the class started talking about it, I was also shocked. And a little upset. I have been working so hard at creating a "safe" class environment, one that even encourages the honest conversation about race instead of what students think they want me (or others) to hear. And then I thought, isn't that what Student S is doing? She included a pretty honest comment here and the only thing I could do was take it personally. By the time the class started critiquing her essay as a class, I figured out a few ways to channel our discussion into a useful direction. We talked about her focus first -- an idea that she alluded to (but not directly) early on -- she wants to argue that African Americans experience racism more than any other culture. Debatable, of course, but that is the whole point to having an argument, right? We then started talking about how Student S could more effectively support this idea. By this point, I had picked up on the (white) students' hesitation in saying anything about the one paragraph where Student S makes a critical comment on our class (it was almost like they wanted to completely ignore it). I'm still not sure how this exactly happened, but one student (Student J) started talking about her thoughts and then ever so slowly more students in the room jumped into the conversation.

Most students in the class participated by the end of the class period. In fact, Student S's paper got us back into the white privilege discussion from last week and it was clear from the discussion that many of the students were taking on this idea for their current papers (connecting this term, for example, with Crash). Two white students, though, were pretty indignant by the idea of white privilege and think it is a bunch of baloney and they feel no sense of privilege at all. I tried to remind them that McIntosh asserts that, of course, this term is more complicated with the intersection of class and gender but I don't think either of these two students were buying it. The female, in particular, seemed pretty pissed when I suggested that it might be her white privilege that enables her to see it from this perspective.

I ended up talking to Student S for quite awhile after class. I think everything is OK. I just wanted to make sure she had a direction for her paper and could take on the revisions since the paper is due next week.

The MWF class hasn't had the same "moment" this week -- but we had a fabulous essay workshop yesterday in which students seem to truly get the idea of focus and support in their individual arguments!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Quick Monday Update!

I am super overdue for an update -- so I promise a long one tomorrow! Today was an interesting day in both of the 101 classes but I am just too exhausted to write much at the moment.

The good news, though, is that I just found out this past weekend that I was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanites grant to study at the Hayes Presidential Library in Fremont, Ohio, in late May. Here is a web site to the program: Click Here! The program is called "Progress and Poverty: The Gilded Age in American Politics and Literature, 1877-1901." I applied for the program because I want to reorganize the way that I teach LIT 214: American Lit II. This particular lit class covers the time from 1865-present time. I often skip over the Gilded Age since it's an area that I am not 100% comfortable with (other tham maybe Mark Twain). Anyway, a lot of the social programs of the time -- xenophobia, social programs, economic concerns, changes in technology -- are issues our students are grappling with today. I thought that if I could reorganize the class around this key time period then maybe I could get more students interested in the entire literature of the class (which some students often get bored by pretty quickly). Anyway .... that's why I applied for the program!

I had a "disruption" of sorts pop up in the evening class -- and I will explain that tomorrow! Night!