Monthly Archives: January 2008

The Essay Questions

Clix, over at Epic Adventures are Often Uncomfortable, left me this comment:

So what were the essay prompts?

Here, for your information, are the five essay questions I gave to my (now six) students (one of them dropped me like a hot potato. I’ll have to wait until Tuesday to find out why…):

1. Discuss the physical descriptions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and their respective homes (Jekyll’s main house vs. Hyde’s neglected laboratory cabinet) as they relate to major themes of the novel. Recognize that, in order to answer this question adequately, you must have a clear understanding of the themes of the novel.

2. Discuss the concept of control in regard to Jekyll’s relationship with Hyde. Is absolute control possible? Can one choose when to be completely good or evil? What does Stevenson’s conclusion appear to be?

3. How does the notion of loyalty contribute to the novel? Discuss this in reference to Utterson, Lanyon, and Dr. Jekyll. Upon close examination, does loyalty help prevent or expedite violence and tragedy? You may also want to consider the idea of “keeping up appearances” and the importance placed on reputation in the novel as you consider your answer to this question.

4. Compare and contrast the ways in which Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Lanyon represent different attitudes toward scientific ethics and, perhaps, toward the nature of evil itself.

5. Although we hear directly from several characters —Enfield, Lanyon, and Dr. Jekyll himself—Mr. Utterson might be considered the central figure of the novel. Why? What characteristics of his personality and circumstances give precedence to his point of view?

I’m churning an answer to question number 4 – I’ve reread the story and have been composing bits of the essay in my head since Thursday night. I’ll have it finished before the due date on Wednesday; in fact, it’ll likely be my Tuesday post. Watch this space…


Filed under colleagues, great writing, Literature, Questions, reading, self-analysis, Teaching, The Job, writing

Tagged Again!

Lanie over at Laniepainie tagged me for this meme:

*Link back to the person who tagged you. (Check!)
*List three things that you believe are necessary to make writing good and powerful. (Check!)
*Tag five others and comment at their blog informing them that they’ve been tagged with this meme. (AW! Do I HAFTA!? I hate tagging, so feel free to boost this if you want. Comment here to let us know you did it, and we’ll all come over and read your answers.)

So, three things that I think make for good and powerful writing…..

1. Investment. Something that I tell all my students, regardless of which of my classes they’re sitting in, is that if they don’t care about what they’re writing about, neither will anyone else. The writer has to have some investment in what he or she is writing or the words will come off as flat and lifeless. I tell my students that they don’t always have to know what they’re going to end up saying when it’s all said and done, but they have to care enough about the process and all that it encompasses- the topic, the language, the construction – to make us care about it, too.

2. A willingness to take chances. Some of the best writing I’ve done has come as a result of my tossing myself in a direction I wasn’t sure would actually work, but I went there, anyway. An example is the fact that the paper from college of which I am most proud was also the scariest to turn in: I was in a literary criticism class and we were investigating Josef Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I wrote a piece in which I used a scholarly article AND an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to deconstruct Kurtz’s behavior and the attitude of the natives toward him. I thought, at the time, that I was taking a huge risk by pulling fluffy pop-culture into a serious class with a serious book, but I believed in the connections I was making and I was excited that I could make them. My professor agreed; so much so that she asked if she could copy my paper to show her other students that one of the points of studying literature is to find those connections in their own lives – much like I did that Saturday night while watching a science fiction television show.

3. A love of language. The writing I remember best is the writing generated by people who love language: Barbara Kingsolver, Stephen King, Richard Bach, Tolkein, Mary Shelley, and many, many others who hold certain images in their minds and are skillful enough with words to make sure that WE see those images, too.

I very clearly remember reading a passage from Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour about 20 or so years ago. She described the house that the story takes place in so vividly that I could actually see it in my mind. About five or so years after I read that book, I was watching an A&E special, or some such, about Anne Rice and New Orleans, where the author lives and where most of her books are set. At one point, there was a picture of the main hall and staircase of an old French Quarter mansion, and I nearly fell over. “THAT’S the Witching Hour house!” I thought to myself, a beat and a half before the narrator told us that this particular house was used as the backdrop for that story. Ms. Rice was able to use the words at her disposal to make me see EXACTLY what she saw, and it’s an experience that’s never left me.

There are a bunch of other things that I believe make for good and powerful writing, but I’ve been asked to limit it to three. If you want to chime in, please do! If you want to do this little exercise on YOUR blog, leave a comment here and we’ll come on over and read what you think makes good writing good.


Filed under about writing, Blogroll, great writing, Literature, out in the real world, popular culture, Questions, self-analysis, writing

Essay Writing

I learned an important lesson yesterday.

I’ve mentioned that my literature class is populated by seven women. It’s a very small group, but I think that will actually work to our advantage.

Of course, that’s assuming that everyone shows up for class.

Yesterday, I had four of my seven students show. Of that four, one had done all the reading and the writing that I asked for, one had done “most” (her assessment) of the reading but none of the writing, one had done “some” of the reading but none of the writing, and one just picked up the reading that morning.

Sigh. It’s impossible to have a fruitful discussion of a text when only two out of five people (one of them being ME) has actually read the text in question.

I made a point of expressing my displeasure at their noncompliance, told them that it couldn’t continue if they expected to pass the class, and sent them home after the break. I then went home and composed a rather stern email and included some pretty tough essay questions for them to work on in lieu of the conversations we DIDN’T have about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

My lesson is that I need to not assume that my students will have done what I asked them to do, and that I need to have something in reserve to do if the greater percentage of them come in completely unprepared for the activities I have planned.


I’ve been thinking about the essay questions I gave them, though, and am seriously considering writing one up myself. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that kind of thinking about a text – the kind that requires a cohesive thesis and the support for that thesis – and I think it might be good practice for me to work through one of the topics I’ve laid out. I may also give my essay to my students, so they can see what kind of work I’m looking for from them (the last time I asked for an essay from my class, most of the students turned in two handwritten paragraphs…).

I’ll post my effort here so you can give me a critique; I’ll be interested to see how rusty I’ve gotten.


Filed under about writing, concerns, frustrations, Literature, self-analysis, student chutzpah, Teaching, The Job, writing, Yikes!

Grammar Wednesday

Before we begin, please go on over to CaliforniaTeacherGuy‘s place and send him a little love. His dad died yesterday, and I’m certain he’d appreciate your prayers and expressions of support. Go on – I’ll wait…….

You’re back? Okay – so, onward to Grammar Wednesday, the Mea Culpa Edition.

CTG wrote me a note about my last Grammar Wednesday post:

My dear Mrs. Chili,

Here’s a grammar grappler from your very own blog:

Look, I’ve got a lot of real life friends and Blogging Buddies who teach in public schools, and I want you all to know that I don’t hold any of you personally responsible, but I want to know this: how is it that a 20 year old makes it to college without knowing how to make plural possessives?!

According to my copy editor’s eye, I believe some much-needed hyphens are missing. Shouldn’t 20 year old be written 20-year-old?

Don’t hit me, please!


He sent me this note at just about the same time I threw my back out, and I didn’t get back to him right away, causing him to worry that he’d offended me. Far from being offended, I actually LIKE having my mistakes pointed out to me; it’s how I learn. Call me out on my shit, my friends!

CaliforniaTeacherGuy is absolutely correct; I DO need hyphens in the adjective phrase that describes my students. I found this at Washington State University’s website:
Hyphenate ages when they are adjective phrases involving a unit of measurement: “Her ten-year-old car is beginning to give her trouble.” A girl can be a “ten-year-old” (“child” is implied). But there are no hyphens in such an adjectival phrase as “Her car is ten years old.” In fact, hyphens are generally omitted when such phrases follow the noun they modify except in phrases involving “all” or “self” such as “all-knowing” or “self-confident.” Fractions are almost always hyphenated when they are adjectives: “He is one-quarter Irish and three-quarters Nigerian.” But when the numerator is already hyphenated, the fraction itself is not, as in “ninety-nine and forty-four one hundredths.” Fractions treated as nouns are not hyphenated: “He ate one quarter of the turkey.”

So, thanks, CTG, for pointing this out to me. I’ve fixed it in last week’s entry, and will strive to be more careful with my hyphens in the future.


Filed under about writing, colleagues, Grammar, Learning, self-analysis, writing, Yikes!


Lara, over at Life, the Ongoing Education, tagged me for a crazy 8 meme. I’ve done this before on my personal blog, but I thought it might be interesting to try it with my professional life in mind. I’ve taken the liberty of changing some of the questions a little to suit my work, and I’ve left off the last “tag eight people to do this” bit. Ready? Here we go:

Eight Things I Am Passionate About About Which I am Passionate

1. Grammar and its proper use.

2. Education, both mine and everyone else’s.

3. Reading. Not only do I enjoy reading, but I find that I learn a lot from the process.

4. Writing. Sometimes, I don’t know what I think about a topic or idea until I start to write about it.

5. My students. Some of them make me absolutely crazy, but I care deeply about all of them, even the ones who couldn’t give a crap about me or what I have to teach them.

6. Improvement. I’m rarely content with “good enough,” and I try to model for my students that the effort it takes to make something better is always worth it.

7. Standards. I’m committed to making my students rise to the bar I’ve set for them, and I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to set that bar higher than it’s historically been set at TCC.

8. Discussion. I learn so much, from both my students and my colleagues, when I engage them in conversation. The viewpoints and ideas they offer me are exciting and challenging, and I come away from our discussions a smarter, better informed and thoughtful person.

Eight Things I Want to Do Before I Die

1. Earn another degree.
2. Teach at a bigger school.
3. Earn a full-time position.
4. Have an office of my own.
5. Work on a committee that sets curriculum and standards.
6. Take cooking courses at TCC.
7. Teach a Lit. and Film course.
8. Establish a well-founded Diversity Club at TCC.

Eight Things I Say Often

1. “Seriously? You don’t have a pen?!”
2. “Listen up; this is important.”
3. “What do YOU think it means?”
4. “I do not accept late work.”
5. “Remember; films and books are separate works of art.”
6. “Have you done the reading?”
7. “Okay, but how did you get from there to here?”
8. “Um…yeah… NO!”

Eight Books I’ve Read Recently (edited to include short stories and poems)

1. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Lewis Stevenson

2. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

3. Brother of the Mount of Olives by Paul Monette

4. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

5. Courting a Monk by Katherine Min

6. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

7. Sympathy by Paul Lawrence Dunbar

8. The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe

Eight Songs I Could Listen to Over and Over Again I Use in My Lessons

1. “Cold as it Gets” by Patty Griffin

2. “The Stranger” by Billy Joel

3. “The Soul Cages” by Sting

4. “The Downesaster Alexa” by Billy Joel

5. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot

6. “Raven” by Dave Matthew’s Band

7. “The Rhythm of Life” by Edwin McCain

8. “Driving the Last Spike” by Genesis

Eight Movies I Have Seen Eight Times Use in Lessons

1. Frankenstein (the Hallmark production)
2. A Christmas Carol (the Patrick Stewart production)
3. Hamlet (the Franco Zeffirelli production)
4. Glory
5. Nuremberg (the TNT production)
6. Mississippi Burning
7. The Last Samurai
8. Ever After

Happy Monday, Everyone!


Filed under Blogroll, film as literature, Gay/Straight Alliance, Grammar, I love my boss, Learning, Literature, little bits of nothingness, out in the real world, Poetry, popular culture, Questions, reading, self-analysis, success!, Teaching, the good ones, The Job, writing

Grammar Wednesday


Look, I’ve got a lot of real life friends and Blogging Buddies who teach in public schools, and I want you all to know that I don’t hold any of you personally responsible, but I want to know this: how is it that a 20-year-old makes it to college without knowing how to make plural possessives?!

My plan for this term is to to give my Comp. students spot-checks once a week to see if I can get a baseline for where most of them are in terms of grammar. I want to offer up lessons on the stuff that the greater portion of the class bombs, rather than doing a blanket attack on stuff they may already have. I gave the class one of these little quizes on Monday to see how well they can form the possessive form of nouns.

Can you tell from my build-up that it did not go so well?

I had one student who scored a 5. Yes, that’s right – a 5. I also had a 15 and a couple of 30s, though I also had two perfect scores. Everyone else fell somewhere in the middle.

A singular noun is generally made possessive by adding an apostrophe – s:

my mother’s car

the government’s policies

Alicia’s artwork

All of these things belong to one person or entity – the car is only owned by my mother, we’re discussing the policies of a particular government, the artwork was created (or owned, it’s not quite clear) only by Alicia.

Conveying that something or somethings are owned jointly by more than one person or organization is a bit more work. First, one must make the noun plural in whatever way that happens – by adding s, es, or changing an irregular noun:

mothers children families friends houses

Then, depending on the ending of the noun, we add either an apostrophe OR an apostrophe-s:

the mothers’ group

six children’s coats

the families’ common yard

a dozen friends’ phone numbers

the neighborhood houses’ value

There will be a lesson – and another quiz – in my class on Monday. I’m sad for these kids that they made it all the way to me without understanding this…


Filed under concerns, frustrations, General Griping, Grammar, Yikes!

Day One!


It was a good day – a harbinger, I hope, of those still to come.

I have six students – all women – in my first period literature class. Five of them have been students of mine before, and three of those five were good students, to boot. I left the course outline pretty open so that we could determine, as a group, where we wanted to go in our reading adventures, and we decided yesterday to start with Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s in the public domain, so I’m printing it out for us to start reading tomorrow. I’ve got to use the literature book they paid upwards of 70 bucks for, though, so we’ll plow through some of the short stories and poems next, then tackle Hamlet by mid-term.

My composition class is huge by TCC standards – though, with 26 students, it’s not quite as big as O’Mama‘s biggest class which contains 37 souls – but it’s plenty big enough for me, thank you very much. It’s going to be challenging reading all the work those students create. I suspect that I’ll do a lot of smallish assignments and save the really important ones for the middle of the course so I’m not scrambling for final grades.

Really, though, I think my biggest challenge is going to be remembering what day it is. I’ve worked a Tuesday / Thursday schedule for so long that moving to a Monday / Wednesday one is going to completely mess with my sense of time. As I left campus yesterday, I kept saying to myself “it’s Monday, it’s Monday,” and I’ve been aware of its being Tuesday all day today. I hope it doesn’t take me too long to make that adjustment…


Filed under colleagues, composition, concerns, film as literature, Literature, little bits of nothingness, reading, self-analysis, Teaching, the good ones