Monthly Archives: November 2006

Plus One

Joe, my boss at Tiny Community College, called this afternoon and left a message on my machine.

He’s caught in the throes of trying to figure out next term’s schedule, and he warned me earlier this week, when he gave me the schedule for the two classes that he wanted me to take, that nothing’s settled yet. I mentioned before that it takes him a while to work up to full speed, and that I always assume the worst when he wants to speak to me. I’m still not sure why I do it, but I can tell you for sure that I still do – the first few seconds of his voice message went like this:

“Hi, Chili, it’s Joe. I need you to call me back, I’ve got some problems with your schedule.”

“Damn!” I thought, “there goes at least one of my classes, if not both of them…” He saved me, though, with his next sentence:

“I might need you to take on at least one other class. Call me back when you get this. Bye”

I’m now the instructor or record (at least, tentatively) for three composition courses; two standard classes that meet face-to-face twice a week (Joe calls them “chalk and talks”) and one hybrid course that meets once a week in a classroom and does the rest of the credit hours online.

I was hoping to not have any online courses. I’m not entirely comfortable with online delivery and I find that it’s harder to keep students focused when they don’t have a set time to meet and attend to the work for a class. Still, having experience teaching online courses can only be a good thing, given the current trend in that direction in higher education. I’m working on some ideas for an online class – one that may use blogging as a tool for learning to write – and I’m open to any suggestions you may have.

I’m going to have a LOT of reading to do next term!

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Grammar Wednesday, Week Two!


Affect and effect seem to be problem words for a lot of my readers, so that will be the subject of the second Grammar Wednesday!

Affect* is a verb, and can have a couple of different meanings. The least common use of the two meanings is “to pretend or assume (as in, “take on”).

“I affect a terrible British accent, but my friend can swear like a drunken Scot.”

“Nervous before every board meeting, Shondra affects a calm she does not feel.”

The second, most common use of the verb is “to influence, act on, or produce an effect.:”

“The loss of the homecoming game affected the team’s morale so badly that they never won another game that year.”

“My hope is that my election to the committee will affect some change in how that body is run.”

Effect** is almost always used as a noun meaning “a consequence or result” and is used with an article:

”The effect of the sale is that the company will have to lay off 20% of its work force.”

“My joke at the funeral did not have the effect I was hoping for.”

As Kizz pointed out in one of the comments for the last Grammar Wednesday, a lot of these questions boil down to elocution. In this case, though, a little mumbling can be your friend: it’s hard to tell the difference between “affect” and “effect” when speaking. When you’re writing, though, choose the right word by trying to replace the word with whatever tense of “influence” you need. If “influence” works, use “affect.” If “result” works, use effect. For example:

“The loss of the homecoming game influenced the team’s moral…” works (but result doesn’t)

“My joke at the funeral did not have the influence I wanted.” doesn’t. (but “result” does)

You can also figure out if you’re using the right word by putting “an” or “the” in front of the word in question. Effect takes an article; affect does not.

Still confused?

Affect / Action

Effect / Result

*Affect also has a noun form, but it used almost exclusively in psychological contexts (and, I’m fairly sure, some Shelley poetry) and, as such, most of us don’t bother to waste valuable brain cells in learning the meaning. If you have brain cells to spare, however, the definition of the noun form of affect is “a feeling or emotion.”

**Effect has a verb form, too; but, again, it’s not at all common. The definition, according to my Webster’s dictionary, is “to bring about, accomplish, or make happen” and the example they give me is “The change to automation was effected last spring.” In all my years studying English and writing for college, I’m not sure I’ve ever used effect as a verb.

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“They LIKE Me! Right Now, They LIKE Me!”


Does anyone else remember Sally Field’s 1985 Oscar acceptance speech?

I remember her being ridiculed for it, but I’ve got to tell you here that I think I know how she felt. There is a rush to being accepted for the work that you do, for receiving acknowlegement that you do it well, and for feeling that others admire you for doing it.

I got a little bit of that positive reinforcement from TCC yesterday when my department head took me aside as I was leaving.

Of course, it took a while to get to the “positive” part. When he first asked to see me, I was bracing for bad news.

You need to understand that my boss is a strange little man. He’s very, VERY supportive of the work that his staff does. He’s fair and kind and honest. He may be the best boss I’ve ever had. What makes him strange, though, is that he often gives off very negative vibes when he first approaches people. Honestly – every time he’s asked to speak to me, I’ve blazed through my memory to see if there’s anything that I’ve done that could have landed me in his doghouse. Did I swear in a classroom? Did I wear something inappropriate to class? Did I fail to teach something that was on the syllabus? Is a student complaining about me?

Now, I recognize that this is my default position, and I’m working hard to overcome that, but he doesn’t make it any easier by his tone or body language. Once in his office, though, the icy exterior melts and everything is just fine. It’s always a relief to see that, and yesterday was no exception.

He’d called me up to let me know that TCC wants me back to teach next semester! WOO HOO!!

Though nothing’s written in stone, he’s set me up to teach two composition courses – there may be more classes on my schedule as he finishes assigning courses to instructors, and I told him that I’d be more than happy to take anything he needs me to fill. I’m particularly excited to be teaching comp. courses – I’ve been wanting to teach writing for a while now, and having a new discipline adds valuable experience to my resume. It’s all good, all the way around.

I’m floating on a little cloud of “I love what I do and I’m SO grateful that I’m being given the opportunity to do it,” and I wanted to share.

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Required Reading

I have a special place in my heart for Martin Luther King Jr.

He and I share a birthday and, even though he was assassinated before I was born, I’ve always felt close to the man. I’ve written here before that I have a particular interest in human struggles for equality and respect. Brother Martin is an embodiment of that concept for me, and I never tire of learning about the work that he did to bring about essential change in this country.

In my public speaking class last week, I found myself with time I wasn’t expecting. Several of the students weren’t prepared to give their speeches, so the time that I’d blocked off for student work was left empty. This time was not insignificant and I wasn’t about to let the kids leave THAT early, despite their clamoring. I was certain that, as soon as the last kid left, my department head would poke his head in and wonder where the hell my class was. This is attention I don’t want.

Being particularly good on my feet (read: I can wing it with pretty reliable success) and trying to fill that time, I though it might be useful to talk about rhetoric. The students have a working understanding of the term, but I’m not sure they really appreciate the nuances of the idea of the skillful use of language or of the power that a secure command of the language holds. I had thought to use MLK’s Dream speech to draw the students into a discussion about rhythm and cadence, of word choice and order, of metaphor and the power of the well-written word. When I asked them if they could offer up an example of a rhetorical structure that Dr. King used in his most famous speech, I was met with nine pairs of glassy-eyes. Seriously – nine slack-jawed students who couldn’t give me anything more substantial than “Uh, ‘I have a dream’?”

SO! I’m making the (not-so-risky) assumption that the students who are supposed to be prepared to speak today aren’t, and I’ve gone ahead and printed out the text to Dr. King’s speech, along with some questions to get them thinking – and writing (good GOD, but they need writing practice!) about this essential bit of American rhetoric. This, for me, is the proverbial killing of two birds (possibly three) – the students need work in reading and writing, this gives them exposure to something that I think all students should be more than passingly familar with, and, since most of my students need opportunities to bring their grades up, it gives me something else to add to their average.

Hopefully, everybody wins.

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The Writer’s Life

The other day, I was driving home from a shopping trip with Organic Mama, when we started talking about language. We’re English teachers, the two of us, and putting us in one place for longer than, oh, ten minutes usually results in some sort of conversation about language, so this, in itself, isn’t really newsworthy. I bring it up only to illustrate to you, Dear Readers, that language is something I think about quite often, It’s part of my everyday existence. I live it, think it, breathe it.

One of the things that I love to do is to collect language that inspires me. There are songs that I love just for a series of six or seven words in them that make me think that there’s much more under the surface of those words. I have a notebook next to my bed in which I put quotes from books I read that speak to me. These quotes don’t have to be anything earth-shattering; they don’t have to represent a truth or reveal the inner workings of the Great Spirit – though, most often, that’s exactly what they do – they just have to work. They have to embody more than just the words on the page. They need to be poetry in the truest sense of the word; a collection of language that transcends language and offers a glimpse into the endlessness of thought and knowledge and belief. It needs to be magic.

Am I making any sense?

Here is some of the language I’ve collected:

“Angels come in many shapes and sizes, and most of them are not invisible” (Expecting Adam by Martha Beck)

“The closer I’m bound in love to you, the closer I am to free” (“Power of Two,” Indigo Girls, Swamp Ophelia)
“I believe that cultivating compassion is one of the principal things that make our lives worthwhile” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama

“Eclipse of the moon when the dark bird flies, where is the child in his father’s eyes?” (“Soul Cages,” Sting, The Soul Cages)

“I have found a way…to wish ‘till things happen. The very atoms I’m made of come apart in a kind of sparkle. A cloud of sparkle propelled by will” (Ahab’s Wife, Sena Jeter Naslund)

“…is it just that the world unwraps itself to you, again and again, as soon as you are ready to see it anew?” (Wicked, Gregory Maguire)

“I know now what trouble can be, and why it follows me so easily” (“Shackled,” Vertical Horizon, Everything You Want)

There are many, many more, but I’ll stop here. I told you all of this so could tell you I found a bit of language worth collecting last Thursday over at Feather’s place. She wrote:

Sometimes I’m homesick
— physically homesick, bone-achingly –
for a place that I haven’t found yet.

Just imagine what lies beneath the surface of those words…..

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What Would You Do?

So, I sent an email to my students about the assignment that’s due for Monday. It went like this:

In order to get an A on this assignment, the following criteria must be met:

-you must have some sort of preliminary outline. It doesn’t have to follow strict outline form, but it must give me a roadmap to how you put your speech together and what points you plan to research for the final product. Most of you have put the barest minimum of effort into your outlines thus far – do some work on this one, please. This part of the packet may be hand-written (but may NOT be on a napkin!)

-your speech must be at least (AT LEAST!) five to seven minutes long if read aloud. Do yourself a favor – read it to a friend and have them time you, because you KNOW I’ll check. It must have a good, solid central idea, at least three supporting points and a clear conclusion. The writing must be clear and convincing college-level work. Avoid generalizations, broad statements, unsupported statements and words like “a lot” and “really.” Oh, and it must be typed.

-you must hand in a comprehensive bibliography (also typed) with your speech. I don’t care if you use APA or MLA citation style (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, LOOK IT UP!!), but make sure whichever you use is complete and consistent. I’m looking for at least (AT LEAST!) three sources, and one of them MUST be from a print resource (ie, NOT a website – find a book or magazine or professional journal or government report or….).

-your entire packet – outline, speech and bibliography – must be grammatically clean. You must have proper punctuation and spelling, subject-verb agreement, and clear use of pronouns. Make sure your language is clear and correct, please. Remember, I’m an English teacher…


Yesterday, I got an electronic file from one of my favorite students. He has written a persuasive speech about spraying insecticide as a preventative for triple-e. His sister died of the disease last year, and it’s pretty obvious that he feels very strongly about his argument for action.

The speech itself isn’t particularly persuasive; he relied a great deal on emotional appeal and righteous anger at the cavalier attitude of those who think that triple-e is not a significant threat. Neither is it especially well-written – there were more than a few grammatical errors and he’s got a bit of a ‘flow’ problem. It’s not a bad speech, mind you, but it’s not A quality work. If this were the only requirement of the assignment, I’d probably give him a strong B.

Here’s my problem:

While the student did quote from various newspapers, he has submitted neither an outline nor a bibliography – two of the required elements for the assignment. The question that I posed in the title of this post is this: do I chase him down for these items, or do I simply dock the grade accordingly?

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MPAA Rating

Husband and I were settling in to watch a video the other night – Mission Impossible III, which I wanted to see for its own sake long before Tom Cruise opened his mouth and proved to the world what a moron he is – when the MPAA rating screen came up:

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of frenetic violence and menace,
disturbing images and some sensuality.

I’m not sure which stopped me first – the “frenetic violence” or the “menace.” Husband actually stopped the DVD so we could make sure we were really reading the rating correctly – neither of us ever remembered having seen a movie described in quite that way.

What prompted me to write about this is that, five minutes ago, MeadMaker called me. We had talked about getting together to watch football on Sunday, and he was calling to confirm the plans.

“While I have you on the phone,” he said, “do you know what ‘frenetic’ means?”

“Yeah,” I said, “it means crazy-busy, lots-going-on-at-once kind of movement. Think ‘ADD’.”

“Yeah,” he said, “I know what it means now – I had to look it up. I’m only asking because we were watching a movie the other day, and it came up as part of the little warning thingy they have about the rating.”

We figured out in short order that we’d watched the same film, and that the rating description had stopped him short, too, but for different reasons. He wasn’t sure he’d ever encountered the word “frenetic” before and figured that if he, being reasonably educated and well-read, didn’t know what the word meant, he’s betting that the better part of the American viewership of films wouldn’t know it, either.

“Yeah, probably,” I said, “but how many people do you think actually READ those things, anyway?

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