Monthly Archives: February 2008

The Plague Comes to TCC

I opened my email the other day to find this precious little announcement:

Dear Campus Community:

In light of the tragedy at Northern Illinois University on February 14th, I want to assure you that TCC has an emergency response plan in place to help ensure the safety of our campus. Your safety as well as the safety of our staff and faculty is always a top concern.

We recently discovered a posting on MySpace written by one of our students that contained a threat of violence. The police have been notified, and we are in contact with them. The student will be suspended until further notice, and a security guard was posted on campus first thing on Wednesday morning.

Unfortunately, in the wake of tragedies like those at NIU and Virginia Tech, some individuals with very poor judgment choose to make threats. The school has zero tolerance for communications that are suggestive of a threat of physical violence or abuse, and we take every threat seriously.

We also want to encourage all of you to keep your eyes and ears open, trust your instincts, and let your instructor or a staff member know immediately if you see or hear any suspicious activity. We each play an important role in ensuring everyone’s safety.

We remain committed to protecting the safety of everyone in our campus community.

I arrived at the college this evening to babysit my computer lab and found that the satellite doors have been locked; the only way in was through the main doors. I also found that we’ve hired armed security to be a presence on campus for the foreseeable future. As I was walking through the parking lot to my car, I wondered how much good those measures will do.

Cajunvegan recently experienced an actual shooting at her school. I cannot begin to imagine what that must be like, and I’m hoping to all that is holy that I never have to find out.

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Filed under colleagues, compassion and cooperation, concerns, out in the real world, The Job, Yikes!

Getting Serious

Okay, I’m starting to get serious about this Film as Literature course. Here’s what I’m thinking so far.  Keep in mind that I’m still very much in progress and am looking for feedback and suggestions and critique:

For the purposes of this class, literature is defined as the stories we tell to help us define our place / navigate our way in the world. They are the stories we tell to solidify our culture, to express our values and investigate our fears, and to set down our history and to predict our future.

Literature, in this context, has no specific qualifications beyond those definitions – literature can be books or movies, it can be an oral tradition or an interpretive dance (though we’ll likely not get into those last two categories in much detail). What I’m looking for here is to get students to start thinking of literature in broader terms than just canonical books.

I’d like to start the course with a film that WASN’T first a book. I’m considering The Last Samurai or Mississippi Burning, but I’m open to other suggestions – got any? What I envision doing is showing the film almost immediately – before we get too much into the purpose for the course – so that students can get the experience of seeing a film the same way we’d investigate a novel without getting bogged down in technicalities or overly-academic notions. We’ll look at plot and setting, characterization and conflict, motivation and resolution in the film in much the same way we’d look at it if we were reading it; I’d ask the students questions that would encourage them to think about different aspects of the film in ways that they may not have considered if they were watching the movie for entertainment. I’ve not come up with specific questions yet, but I’m not too far away from composing a few targeted inquiries that get at the kind of thinking I’m looking for my students to do.

I would then consider doing a side-by-side comparison of a text and a film. I’m leaning heavily toward a Shakespeare piece – there have been a lot of interpretations of King Lear and a few good ones of Othello, and I really am in love with Hamlet, but I think that’s only because I’ve taught it so much that I’ve developed a real sense for the play- though I’m also strongly considering looking closely at either The Green Mile or A Dry White Season. My intent here is to get the students to form an impression of the story in their minds through the reading, and then to look critically at the film versions of the story not so much as a comparison to the text, but in terms of how well the screenplay echoed the themes of the story as the students understood them. What did the director do well and what did the students think fell short? Why? Does the class agree that this or that was well or poorly done? How does what we, as individuals, bring to a literary experience influence how we judge a piece (or an interpretation of a piece)? How does our collective understanding of stories or storytelling influence how we, as a class, judge that piece? Are our individual judgments different from those of us in our role as members of a society?

There’s a lot more to this, but these are the things that have been foremost in my mind and, consequently, the things I wanted to get out into this forum for discussion, critique, and development.

8 Comments

Filed under compassion and cooperation, film as literature, Learning, Literature, popular culture, Questions, reading, self-analysis, Teaching, The Job, writing

Grammar Wednesday

A few weeks ago, I got this email from Suzanne (sorry it’s taken me so long to get to you, Sooza!):

Okay, I have one for you.  One of my colleagues and I were talking about the difference “fish” and “fishes.”  The rule is that if you are talking about multiple fish of the same species, the plural is “fish.”   When you are speaking about multiple fish of different species, you say “fishes.”   For example;


I caught six salmon last week.  Those fish take up a lot of space in my freezer!

The trawler boat found an area that was teeming with fishes – grouper, moray and sea bass.

I understand this is called an “irregular plural”.  Are there any others like this out there?

Thought this might be grist for your grammar mill.

Hope all is well with you and yours!
Love and blessings,
Sooza

This was a good question, and it took a fair bit of research to come up with my response.

I think, Sooza, that this answers itself intuitively – your assessment of the words to use to most clearly express an idea (is there one type of fish or more?) is exactly right, and all that I could find on the subject bears you out.  First, go here and see that this site explains the use of the words in almost exactly the way you did:

A group of fish of the same species are called fish. Two or more species of fish are called ‘fishes’.

None (and I mean literally none) of my grammar books addressed this question directly (and I even looked in the Lessons in English text that my mom gave me, which was published in 1880).  If a style guide addressed the pluralization of “fish” at all, it told me that the singular and the plural are the same word, much like deer, sheep, and politics.  I can’t, off the top of my head, come up with any other nouns that can pluralize the same way fish and fishes can, though I’ll keep the question in the back of my mind and update if any come to me.

For myself, I’d use fish and fishes the way you have; if I’m talking about one species of fish in a group, I’d use fish.  If I’m expressing something about a diverse group, I’d use fishes:

The fish in the tank are all guppies.

We saw many different fishes at the aquarium, but no dolphins. 

Thanks, Sooza!

Happy Wednesday, Everyone!

15 Comments

Filed under Grammar, Questions

Whose Job IS It, Really?

For their weekend assignment, my composition class was tasked to read a single chapter in their texts about persuasive writing. In this chapter were brief, yet very clear and easily understandable definitions of common terms and concepts used in debate and persuasion: the straw man, the bandwagon appeal, that sort of thing.

Monday morning, I brought in a pop quiz of sorts – I listed all of the terms and concepts explained in the chapter and asked them to choose four of them to explain as clearly and completely as they could.

Care to guess how that went?

What astounds me is the arrogant outrage that some of them expressed at being asked to demonstrate their knowledge of this material. Many of the students were angry at me for (I suppose) having the nerve to expect them to work – to remember the information they were asked to read and study less than a week ago.

A number of students have complained that they’re not learning anything this term – and not just my students, either. Several of my colleagues have complained to me that that their students are dissatisfied. I had breakfast with a couple of my former students last week, and they spent most of the hour and a half we were together to complain that they felt they’d wasted their time this semester.

I’m not taking responsibility for it this anymore. If my students can’t be bothered to commit the major themes of a week’s assignment to memory – assuming, of course, that they actually read the assignment – then how much more can I be expected to do for them?

I kind of bitched them out after I collected the quizzes (I haven’t had the nerve to look at them yet; I’ll grade them tomorrow afternoon and let you know how it went). I think I impressed upon them that I’m really not asking for much, and that the responsibility for the quality of their education lies a great deal with them.

It’s going to be interesting to see how their persuasive papers turned out…

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Filed under about writing, composition, concerns, failure, frustrations, General Griping, hybrids suck, student chutzpah, Yikes!

Objectives

Okay, Gang – how about this for a set of objectives?  I boosted this directly from this course syllabus – like I said; I’m not interested in reinventing the wheel here, and these objectives feel pretty darned close to what I envision for my own course:

• Students will enhance their ability to understand, appreciate, and discuss works of literature through extensive reading and discussion of short stories, novels and plays.

• Students will analyze works of fiction and drama for plot structure, setting, characterization, theme, and narrative point of view.

• Students will develop an understanding of critical analysis of film through careful examination of cinematic adaptations of literary texts, focusing on character development, dramatic structure, and performance.

• Students will learn and utilize the terminology of film analysis, both those terms shared with literary discussion (character, plot, theme, setting) and those specific to cinema (lighting, montage, special effects, etc.).

• Students will demonstrate an understanding of the possibilities and problems involved in the transposition of literature to film, applying terminology and critical skills acquired during the semester to analyze a cinematic adaptation of a text not discussed in class.

I would add to this an objective about learning to see film as literature in its own right – that a film doesn’t have to be an adaptation of a novel in order to be considered literature.  I suppose I’d have to start with a working definition of what literature is for the purposes of the course, but that’s something I can play with as I go.

Does that help clear up for you all what I’m looking to do here?

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Filed under colleagues, film as literature, job hunting, Learning, Literature, popular culture, Questions, reading, self-analysis, Teaching, The Job

Professional Collaboration

Are you up for a little professional collaboration?

I want to put together a 16 week, college-level course in Film as Literature. My vision for this course is that it would be set up in a seminar format – viewing, discussion, writing, discussion, reading, discussion – and would focus almost entirely on film as works of literature. I would want to have at least two – maybe more – crossovers of novels/plays to films (I’m thinking specifically of Hamlet, The Prestige, and To Kill a Mockingbird, but I’m open to other suggestions and am also willing to have the books/plays rotate from semester to semester) so that the students can get used to the idea of seeing the written word and film as separate works of art, even when one is based on the other. I want to include these films in the course:

The Last Samurai
Glory
Mississippi Burning
A Dry White Season
Schindler’s List
Dances with Wolves
Willow (or LadyHawke)
The Green Mile
I Robot

I’m sure there are other films I’ll want to investigate, but these are the ones I’ve been itching to do with a class.

What I’m looking for from you, Dear Readers, is both some collaboration and some guidance. Can you all help me put together something that would hold up to the rigor expected in an upper-level course? What kinds of objectives do I need to put on a syllabus for such a class? How do I design the work and the assessments so that the students can demonstrate mastery of those objectives?

My goal is to have a complete packet – syllabus, lesson plans, sample assignments, the whole thing – put together so that when I start interviewing for jobs, I can show them this work. I’m hoping to eventually be able to TEACH this as a special topics class, and I’m really looking to wow my perspective employers with my comprehensive and academically valid course.

So, what do you say? Are you up for doing a little brainstorming with me?

27 Comments

Filed under colleagues, film as literature, job hunting, Learning, Literature, out in the real world, popular culture, Questions, reading, self-analysis, Teaching, The Job, writing

Grammar Wednesday

Sentence Fragments!

I haven’t seen a whole lot of bloggers who suffer from fragmentation – at least, not in their grammar; their lives are another story entirely – and I don’t read fanfic, so I’ve got no references there, but my students? Goodness, but those children can write fragments all day long and never think twice about it!

There are five things that make a sentence complete. When I teach these five things, I give my students the Vulcan salute and hope that the gesture will help them to remember. First, a complete sentence must have a capital letter at the beginning. Second, a complete sentence has to have some form of end punctuation. Next, a complete sentence has both a subject and a verb (though the subject isn’t always a word in the sentence – we’ll get to that in a minute). Finally, a complete sentence must express a complete thought.

Jayson doesn’t like pea soup.

RUN!

In the first sentence, Jayson (capitalized both because it’s a proper noun and because it appears at the beginning of a sentence) is our subject. Does like is our verb (not is an adverb and is not part of our verb; does is a helping verb that needs, in this case, like to have the sentence make sense). There’s a period at the end of the sentence and, when we’ve reached that period, we know not to put a bowl of pea soup in front of Jayson because he likely won’t eat it; our thought is completely expressed.

The second sentence is, indeed, a complete sentence, even though we’ve only got one word. We’ve got the requisite capital letter at the beginning and punctuation at the end. We’ve got a subject, too, even though it’s not expressed in a word; our subject, in this case, is the “you, understood” that often comes with commands. Our verb is pretty clear, and the thought expressed is likewise complete – you need to get out, and fast!

The problem my students seem to have is with the final requirement for complete sentences. They’re pretty good with capital letters, and most of the time there’s punctuation that indicates the end of a structure. They’ve gotten pretty good at putting subjects and verbs in their sentences, though they continue to have s/v agreement issues. No, their problem comes from not being able to always express complete thoughts. More often than not, I’ll see sentences like:

Because she knew it was wrong.

or

Even though I did what you asked.

This is why, ladies and gentlemen, I tell my students not to start their sentences with conjunctions. If we take the “because” off of the first sentence, we’ve got a lovely structure; She knew it was wrong. While we don’t know what “it” was, we do know that she knew it was wrong, and really, that’s enough. The “because” complicates things, though; did she do something because she knew it was wrong? Did she choose not to do it because she knew it was wrong? Did she report it? Cover it up? What?

The thing is, there’s a subject (she) and a verb (knew) and a capital letter and end punctuation. The problem comes from the writer assuming we know the rest of the story.

The second sentence is even worse, in my opinion. Even though I did what you asked really only begins to express a thought; what we need is a comma and the rest of that thought:

Even though I did what you asked, you still recorded a failing grade.

Even though I did what you asked, you continue to refuse to take my calls.

Even though I did what you asked, I got in trouble with our boss.

Again, we’ve got a subject (I) and a verb (did), but we’re missing some essential information to help us find out what the consequences were of doing what I asked.

Recognize, please, that this is only something I’m picky about in formal writing. I use sentence fragments all the time in blogging or when I speak – it’s a natural part of conversation, really, because you already have the information necessary to make the fragment make sense. In formal, turn-it-in-for-grades writing, or for formal business writing or for submitting entries to newspapers or magazines, though, every sentence should be complete.

Happy Wednesday, Everyone. Live long, and prosper.

spock_giving_vulcan_salute_286x215.jpg

4 Comments

Filed under about writing, frustrations, Grammar, great writing

One Down…

Thank you all, VERY much, for your input about my cover letter. I made several of the changes you suggested – you were all exactly right about what needed fixing and I’m grateful for so many fresh eyes – and put together a package that I sent electronically this evening to my first prospective new employer, Small Local College.

I’ll keep you all painfully updated.

In a strange bit of synergy, I had emailed the delightful woman who was my cooperating teacher during my internship. She was a high school teacher of mine and was, really, my inspiration for becoming an English teacher myself. I did exceedingly well under her supervision and, as my internship progressed, we became friends.

She lives right down the road from us, and I think of her every time I pass by the intersection of her street and the main road I take to get to Small Coastal City. After thinking “Gee, I wonder how CT is doing” for the hundredth time, I finally got off my ass and sent her a “hi, I’ve been thinking of you and would you let me take you to dinner sometime soon?” email a little over a week ago.

She emailed me back on Monday and told me that she’d been thinking of me, too, and almost came by to see me on Friday when she’d heard on our local NPR station that TCC was closing. She then launched into a pitch to get me to apply for a position at my old high school, something I’d done – and been rather unceremoniously turned down for – when my internship was complete a few years ago.

CT assured me that the political climate at my former high school had changed quite a bit; that the pompous (and really highly under-qualified) assistant principal who denied me the job was no longer the supervisor of the English department and that they’ve now got quite a dynamic and interesting curriculum coordinator there. She did say that she wasn’t sure of the department head (“I’m never sure of Rosanna” was her direct quote), but that she was eager to get my name into people’s ears.

Though I will apply and interview, if for nothing else than the experience of it, I’m not sure how I feel about this as an opportunity. I likely wouldn’t take a position if it were offered to me, though turning down a chance to work again with CT would be a hard thing to do. Truth be told, it’d be hard to turn down a full time salary, too; paltry though teacher money is, a full time high school teacher makes more than an adjunct professor does.

Honestly, I really don’t think I’m suited to the environment of public high school. My admittedly limited experience in high schools showed me, with a startling clarity that resonates with me to this day, that the political and social climate of the teachers’ lounge is far more than I can handle. I have zero tolerance for backstabbing, cliques, or petty competition. I don’t want to hear gossip, I don’t want to be talked about behind my back, and I don’t want to scrabble with other teachers for whatever meagre attention the administrators are willing to parse out. I’m also not sure I could deal professionally with clueless or arrogant parents who expect their children to do nothing and still earn good grades.

I have a license to teach in public schools in my state. I plan to keep that license current for as long as I can manage because I want to keep that particular door propped open – even if just a crack – because I never know when I may need a full time job. Still, listening to my friends who teach in public schools is enough to remind me of how little energy I’d be willing to expend to keep my game face on and, hopefully, keep my job. Besides, Mr. Chili has made it perfectly clear that, for as much as he knows I’d try, I couldn’t leave work at work. He doesn’t want to live with me while I’m trying to live with all the bullshit that happens in a typical high school, and I can’t say that I blame him. If Mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

Still, I’ll send my CV and a cover letter along with CT and see what happens. The experience of an interview, and the idea of keeping my name and face in the minds of people who make hiring decisions, can’t be a bad thing. I’m really hoping that my application to SLC gets some attention, though; right now, staying in the college level really is my ideal scenario.

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Filed under colleagues, concerns, failure, frustrations, General Griping, job hunting, out in the real world, self-analysis, Teaching, Yikes!

Constructive Criticism

So! I’ve got my CV pretty much put together, and I’m happy with it. What I’m hoping for from you, Dear Readers, is some feedback on my cover letter. Mr. Chili thinks it’s just fine the way it is, but I’m hesitant; I’m not crazy about the third paragraph. What do you think?

Leisel Quinnley
Academic Director
Local Small College
Small Coastal City
New England, USA

Dear Ms. Quinnley:

It is with great excitement that I present you with my application for a position as an English instructor at Small Local College.

I believe that the purpose of education is to connect people; to allow us to think and speak and communicate in complex and meaningful ways. Throughout my education, internship, and professional experience, I have focused my attention on finding ways to make the study of English, particularly the study of literature, interesting and meaningful to students. All people, whether they believe it or not, have a wealth of experiences to bring to texts. I believe one of my primary responsibilities as a teacher is to encourage students to approach the study of English and literature with a belief that they have both something to learn and something to contribute. It is my hope that, when they leave my classroom, students will have a substantial and diverse foundation of literary experience that they can use to make meaningful connections to people and situations they encounter in their own lives.

Adult education presents a particularly rewarding challenge to me. I especially enjoy the thoughtfulness and wealth of life experiences that adults bring to the learning environment, and find that the experience is enhanced by the fact that most disciplinary issues that can arise in the high school classroom are nonexistent in adult-level classes. It has also been my experience that adults are generally more willing to take risks with their thinking – to stretch boundaries and consider ideas or points of view that they may not have considered before. This kind of intellectual freedom and playfulness benefits everyone in the classroom, and I’m always excited to be a part of that.

I am eager to continue to grow and learn in my chosen profession, and I hope to find a strong and supportive environment at Small Local College. It is my wish that I can become an important contributor to the school and community.

I very much appreciate your consideration of my application for employment. I am available at your convenience to answer any questions you may have.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Chili

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Filed under about writing, composition, concerns, frustrations, out in the real world, Questions, self-analysis, Teaching, The Job, writing, Yikes!

WELL! Okay, Then!

It seems that Mrs. Chili is soon to be out of a job!

executioners_axe_tn.gif

Chatty, who knows my superhero, secret identity, emailed me this evening with this little tidbit:

 I just heard Joe Reporter on W-LOCAL NEWS announce TCC’s closing??   Did you know that was happening??

My answer to Chatty’s question was “welllll, sort of; but I had no idea it was happening NOW!”

The long answer is that TCC’s holding company has been trying to sell the school for a while now.  This, of course, was not news to us.  It is also true that TCC’s holding company has been having some not insignificant trouble finding a buyer.  This is also not news to us – we hear about it in meetings, in corporate emails, and over the photocopier.  That the school is closing, though?  TOTALLY new news to everyone.

I thought I’d share with you, Dear Readers, the email that we received from the president of TCC.  This is an exact, cut-and-pasted copy of what we got by way of announcement that the school is closing.  In reading this, would YOU have guessed that you’re being told you’re out of a job?

Good morning:

Again, I want to re-iterate to all the faculty and staff how proud I am to be associated with such a dedicated, passionate group of individuals.  I have attached a letter from Anthony S. who is the new Managing Director of Campus Transitional Schools.

I have also attached a list of some frequently asked questions that students may ask faculty and staff.    Peter H. has offered to add to the list of frequently asked questions over the weekend and I will forward an updated FAQ to you all early next week. 

Michael

 It turns out that the ax notice came in the attachment from Anthony S.  It’s buried pretty deep; see if you can find it:

We looked at numerous criteria in evaluating the alternatives to a sale, met with the leadership of each school, and reviewed a significant amount of data.  We considered, among other things, each campus’s current financial performance and forecast, real estate aspects including use of capacity and potential lease alternatives within each school, location and viability of the current brand or another brand in that location, and level of interest from potential purchasers.  We considered these decisions very carefully and took additional time to do so, in order to ensure an outcome that takes into account the best interests of all constituencies.

We recognize that the last 15 months or so have brought a level of uncertainty and related anxiety, and we continue to be grateful to you for your unwavering commitment to your school and your students during this difficult period.  We will work hard to ensure that your contributions are appropriately recognized.

We will honor our promises to our students and have made the commitment to an orderly transition that will provide current students with the opportunity to complete their programs.

Student externships and services such as career services and financial aid will continue to be available to students throughout the teach-out.  Our graduates also will continue to receive all other necessary services.  Upon closure, we plan to move records and other support to one central location accessible via the Internet, except as necessary for them to may remain local.. Graduates will be appropriately notified of these final arrangements.

Here are the key facts that you should know about this decision:

Although the date for the final closing of the campus is December 31, 2009, we may wind down our operations earlier or later, depending on the needs of our students.

This decision will result in some immediate staff reductions and additional future reductions on a phased-in basis.  We will follow up with each of you within the next 30 days to provide you with additional specifics in connection with your individual situations.

We will offer severance pay to our full-time faculty and staff, as well as stay bonuses, as appropriate.

Our intent is to make this as transparent and supportive a process as possible, and we are committed to ongoing communication for faculty, students, parents and all stakeholders.

Guess what I’LL be doing this weekend?

image credit 

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Filed under Blogroll, colleagues, concerns, failure, frustrations, General Griping, out in the real world, self-analysis, Teaching, The Job, Yikes!