Category Archives: Teaching

Rant moratorium?

I see them every now and then – furious complaints or snappy comebacks about student behavior, posted or shared by college professors on social media. Sometimes they’re pretty funny. Overall, though, they bring me down.

Here’s a thought: What if we abstained from posting nastygrams about our students, just for this semester?

Students have thrown some curveballs my way, but many have left me open-mouthed in amazement. I’m talking about students who revealed they were the first person in their family to set foot on a college campus; a student who wrote a gorgeous short story out of the blue, because something in the assignment touched him; students reading ahead in the assigned book because they got so into it.

If I succumb to the seduction of a social media rant, I degrade those stories. I feel only the anger of the injustice and the momentary boost from Facebook cheerleaders.

If you’re not convinced that a rant moratorium has merit, consider this: Acting like a cad isn’t just for students.

In Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay presents a beautifully humble essay on her first year of teaching college students. She writes:

Sometimes, during class, I catch students staring at their cell phones beneath their desks like they’re in a cone of invisibility. It’s as funny as it is irritating.

…Sometimes, when students are doing group work, I sneak a look at my own phone like I am in a cone of invisibility. I am part of the problem.
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Group work sucks

What students tell me: Group work sucks. What I do about it: Assign a group project. The big secret in all of this? They produce great stuff.

Here’s a video one of my classes put together in April. It’s part of a website highlighting Gallaudet University clubs that have gone quiet — lost clubs that the students felt should “be heard.”

 

The group project is a required exercise in a general studies course I teach to first-year college students.

Sometimes, the project goes well. Most of the time, though… well, it devolves into disarray and misery. We research best practices in team work and project management and discuss the exasperating moments. When the stress climbs toward freak-out levels, I remind them that the project grade weighs about as much as a flea in the overall score for the course. Continue reading

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Eat the big frog

 

frog on a tree branch

Australian Green
Tree Frog by LiquidGhoul. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Caerulea3_crop.jpg#/media/File:Caerulea3_crop.jpg

If forced to eat one of two frogs, most of us would choose the smaller one. I’m proud of three students who, when given the choice between a written and a video essay for their midterm, went for the biggest, ugliest croaking mass of yuck and bit right in.

Two new signers (one of whom was also an iMovie neophyte) resolved to go the video/ASL route. The third student is articulate and sharp–in person, in ASL. Writing, though? Not his favorite thing.

They each did well. And the best part is that we’re all on spring break now!

I hope to follow up with each of these students, to ask for their reactions. I suspect the frogs weren’t as slimy as they expected.

 

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What I’m Consuming: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Feminist graphicIt’s time for another What I’m Consuming post. I started with a collection of shortish fiction. This next one is a collection of short nonfiction (i.e. essays) — Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (Harper Perennial, 2014).

What it is and why it’s here

Bad Feminist is a collection of essays by a fiction writer and cultural critic. Gay chews on and critiques all manner of things in pieces you may recognize from Slate, The Rumpus, and others.

The book starts off with disarming reads. Gay’s first essay on feminism has her questioning the absolutism many associate with the term. “I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy,” Gay writes. She is also:

…a woman who loves pink and likes to get freaky and sometimes dances her ass off to music she knows, she knows, is terrible to women and who sometimes plays dumb with repairmen because it’s just easier to let them feel macho than it is to stand on the moral high ground.

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Ferguson and shining a light

woman standing in front of bas relief sculptures with protest signs

A woman stands in Judiciary Square at the endpoint of the Justice for All March in Washington, DC.

 

Police-involved shooting.

That’s the term I see often now. It attempts an objective tone, a tone I tried to evoke with my classes following our first discussions of Ferguson and my recent post. I wanted to shine a light on this issue dwelling in our minds.

As I light the Hanukkah candles this week, I’m reminded how every light casts shadows. I have opinions and bias. And more observations. I want to follow up on those now.

Talking in class

In the week following the grand jury decision not to indict then-police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Ferguson resident Michael Brown, I talked to my students and tried to listen. I was impressed with their knowledge of the case. They had been following the news, not just Facebook rantings or snippets on CNN. Continue reading

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Conflicting sources in Ferguson

Venn diagram with good source criteria

A diagram by the author, created for first-year courses. Click image for a link to the PDF version.

I tell my college students to evaluate a source before they use it in a paper. Before they trust it to tell them the truth.

Around Ferguson, Mo., trust and truth evade me.

Questions on page 196 of the textbook in my critical reading and writing class suggest a formula to determine reliability. It’s a blue box with a list of questions, the kind savvy media consumers ask, like How did you find it? Who authored it?  Where was it published? Subsequent pages offer a chart to help crunch your answers (if you found it in a peer-reviewed journal or government website, that’s a good sign; if a retail website published it, that’s not so good).

I often distribute my own condensed guide, shown above. I sometimes talk about my experiences as a white, hearing, Jewish woman and how this relates to how I see, react to, and generate rhetoric.

What the public accepts about what happened in Ferguson: On August 9, a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager.

Some sources the public has about the event:

-A transcript of a detective’s interview with police officer Darren Wilson, who shot Michael Brown

-An interview with Dorian Johnson, who was with Brown that day, in an MSNBC video

-Accounts from other eyewitnesses–who saw it from cars, a balcony, the street–used in Wilson’s grand jury hearing.

I found these online, from media outlets I trust, mediated only by those asking the questions.

Other considerations include:
-American history

-Power

-Law enforcement trends and protocols

-Racism

-Prejudice

-Politics

-Psychology

-Communities

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Look who’s faculty

Books and computer

The view at my new desk.

It’s official: I’m on the English Department faculty at Gallaudet University. My official title is Lecturer II. After a few years of a full-time but temporary position, teaching is officially part of my life.

I’ve been quiet about this change here on the website, but it’s been a major presence since March. That’s when I learned of the English Department posting, summoned the courage to ask writers and editors I respect to write recommendations, updated my CV, and then sent off my application. In April, I received an invitation to interview. By early May, I had learned that an interview for a faculty position means meeting with the search committee, the department chair, and the dean, mingling with students and would-be colleagues at a reception, and giving a teaching demonstration to a classroom full of faculty members and upperclassmen–all within a few hours.

Before too long, the dean offered me the job.

I started teaching in my new capacity with the fall semester, which just closed out its fourth week.

This is both a change from and a continuation of what I did for three years as a temporary instructor. I’m grateful for this new phase, and look forward to sharing my experiences and insights here.

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