"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Friday, September 20, 2013

Teaching Update: Independent Study & IWC

I can't believe it's been so long since I last posted--and I can't believe it's the end of Week 4 already.  But I've been having all kinds of strange intersections of thoughts about community and this campus and beyond, something I'm incredibly grateful for on a personal and existential and professional level.

It's Family Weekend at Concordia, which has put me on an unexpected train of thought these last few days.  This week, it was the one-year anniversary of my beloved uncle's unexpected death, and each memory of him (and pictures that my cousins have posted) chips at my heart a little more for their grief. My godfather died, also unexpectedly, of a heart attack in May.  And then my father ended up with basal cell carcinoma on his ear, necessitating removal, which was followed by chest pains that resulted in stents (and Dad has lost nearly 20 pounds in the time since and this brand-new attention to his health has made the rest of us breathe a sigh of relief).  Too much loss and too much threat of loss in a short time and it makes me incredibly grateful for all the ways we define our families, how we love and support each other in all sorts of ways.

On a building in the "Latin Quarter"
I'm in a particularly good Irish mood today, mostly due to the misty gloom of the morning and the Barry's tea in my mug (I'm in the office, though I'm not generally here till noon on MWF), but also because I've been doing an independent study with a student on (women's) travel/place writing and as we've been reading (just finished Michele Morano's Grammar Lessons, which L. loved, as I knew she probably would) and writing, I've been free writing along with the prompts I've been giving her.  We were writing about "What does Liverpool (insert other place as necessary) eat for breakfast?" and I wrote about "What does Galway eat for breakfast," which was lovely.  Gaelic Storm's "Irish Breakfast Day" never fails to make me grin, especially when that song appears on my playlist as I'm on the roundabout in south Moorhead, on my commute from Fargo to campus.  As a result, I've got some movement on Galway hookers (I got to see the Naomh Bairbre again when I was in Galway in July and the Bonnie Roy was moored on the Claddagh Quays across from my B&B) that will help me revise my beloved Quays essay (one of my favorites, of all time).  I haven't been able to make time to do my own writing since I got back from Ireland, moved to Fargo, and started my new job. I've never done an independent study before, let alone on a subject so close to my heart, so this is exciting on a lot of different levels.

The Bonnie Roy
The Naomh Bairbre

L. and I came to the reading list like this:  I proposed a fairly long list of books that fit with her desires for the independent study (she could also propose possibilities), which is to do some substantial writing about her study abroad in Liverpool last semester, and from that list, she chose four books, plus a craft text.  Here's our reading list:

  • Michele Morano, Grammar Lessons: Translating a Life in Spain.
  • Erik Weiner, The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World.
  • Alice Steinbach, Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman.
  • Robert Root, ed., Landscapes with Figures: Nonfiction of Place.
  • Bill Roorbach, Writing Life Stories: How to Make Memories into Memoirs, Ideas into Essays, and Life into Literature.

Inside the Galway City museum
What's great about this list is that two of these books L. suggested--and I haven't read--so this is as much a learning experience for me as it is for her.  She turned in her first writing yesterday, on the Scouse accent of Liverpool and how that translated (ha) into the culture shock and travel disorientation of her arrival to England and her study abroad.  So much possibility there.  She turned in three pages and one look at it and I know what she has there will be at least twenty pages.  That kind of promise is so exciting.

I've been doing ten hour days in the office this week, unusual for me, since I generally do much of my course prepping and grading at home (and I got rough drafts from all three IWC classes this week, so in the immortal words of the Dowager Countess of Grantham, "What's a weekend?").  It's Family Weekend this weekend, so the campus will shortly be filled with parents and families, all excited to draw the community closer together.  This morning--and this is why I'm here on a morning when I'm not generally here--is because during community time, the English department is hosting Coffee and Conversation for (English) students and their families.  (The way that Concordia's schedule is constructed, on Fridays, time from 9:20-10:20 is left unscheduled for meetings and gatherings and events--very cool.)

My IWC classes have been going very, very well and I'm seriously excited to see these drafts they've turned in.  My TR morning IWC has been a challenge of late, for a variety of reasons, though I'm hoping that we've turned a corner.  Part of the challenge with that class is that the chemistry is wonky, it's at 8:00 in the morning, and it's a TR class, which means the class is 100 minutes long.  Earlier this week, they were not only staring blankly and clearly not paying attention as I was explaining how to use quotations (obviously not the sexiest subject), but a few of them got snarky and aggressive with each other.  They turned in rough drafts yesterday and I sent a prefacing email suggesting bringing some kind of caffeinated beverage or anything else they may need to stay awake--and I walked into class yesterday morning to the most boisterous, nearly-frightening GOOD MORNING!.  Is this the caffeine talking?  I asked.  Yes, they said.  In the immortal words of Dr. Jerry Hathaway from Real Genius, up the voltage.  But the whole situation is a good reminder of what it means to be a teacher of first-year writing and the attitude most students have about writing.

But to bring this reality check back to my point:  there are at least four students in that particular class who are dealing with heavy personal issues, which I suspect is coloring their attitude and performance in that class.  One of them is from Colorado, where his family and friends are all affected by the flooding there, and I started to wonder about the unhealthy bonding this class has done and how we could work together towards a more positive community in there.  I have no idea how to go about this, to make it fit with department expectations, but I started to wonder if this particular class could work on a project together, as a positive community united in outreach, rather than a negative community united in their dislike of my class, to support those Coloradans affected by the flood.  Food for thought.  But I've already changed my activities and approach to that class--hopefully the shift will help.  Can't hurt.

My final thought is this: from the moment I first set foot back on this campus, the transition from long-ago student to faculty, this place has been exactly what I needed, as a teacher and a human being.  It's a place that speaks my language, that the place-conscious pedagogy I so value is reflected in the college's mission and core curriculum; even though the language we use is different, the movement is exactly the same.  Start local, move outward towards the global.  This place so values the first-year experience that the faculty teaching the Inquiry Seminars and the faculty teaching the Inquiry--Written Communication and Inquiry--Oral Communication wanted to have time before the semester started to talk.  Wanted!  This is a place where even full professors teach composition, because they believe it's important.  Creative writing professors, literature professors, journalism professors, rhetoricians--everybody teaches IWC.  This is a place where my department chooses to get together once a month to talk about teaching and pedagogy.

And yet, since I'm on a one-year contract, and the MLA Job List just came out a week ago, I have to apply for all the jobs I can possibly find and resign myself to the fact that I will go elsewhere next year. Way to set the bar too high.

No comments:

Post a Comment