Monthly Archives: November 2008

I Wish I Could Say This Was Funny

I received a text message from one of my TCC students at ten minutes to nine this evening.

“How much of the story do we have to read?”

The student is asking about A Christmas Carol, which has been on the syllabus since the first day of class and was assigned to them last Monday.  We’re discussing it tomorrow.

My reply?

“All of it.”



Filed under concerns, dumbassery, failure, frustrations, Literature, reading, Teaching, Yikes!

Grammar Wednesday

Another question offered by Dudley!  He’s really getting into this!

Mrs. Chili,

This one is a serious question.  It’s not a beef.  It has to do with titles like Attorney General, or Mother In Law.  If we have more that one, it’s Attorneys General or Mothers In Law; HOWEVER, how to we write the possessive?

Is it the Attorney General’s briefcase or is it the Attorney’s General briefcase?

If we’re only talking about ONE Attorney General, then it would be “the Attorney General’s briefcase.”  If there’s more than one, though- if they ALL forgot their luggage in the board room – then we’d say
the Attorneys General’s briefcases.”

The same rule would apply if there were a convention of, say, mothers-in-law and they all, like my mother-in-law is prone to do, walked out of the banquet hall with their napkins tucked into their belts.  “The mothers-in-law’s napkins were reported as stolen by the kitchen staff.”

This form of possessive is so rare, though, as to almost never get used.


Filed under Grammar

Ten Things Tuesday

Alternately titled; Ten Things I Want My Freshmen to Leave My Class Knowing:

I’m printing this and handing it out on the last day of classes.

1.  The practice of drafting through papers is kind of unique to your English classes.  Almost every other professor you’ll ever have is going to assign you a paper and expect you to do it all on your own.  Never again will you have your proverbial hand held through the paper writing process as we’ve done this semester.

2.  Big words don’t always imply to your teacher that you’re thinking big thoughts.  Make sure that the word you’re using actually means what you want to say, because nothing grinds a professor’s gear faster than an inappropriately used word.  Don’t be afraid to say something simply.

3.  Please, for the love of all that’s holy, use last names when referring to people.  Albert Einstein is Einstein, not Albert.  If a character is typically referred to by his or her first name (Huck, Dorothy, that sort of thing) or if a personality goes by only one name (Cher, Bono), that’s fine, but please call Dr. King Dr. King or Abraham Lincoln Lincoln.  Oh, and Malcolm X?  You may refer to him as X; that’s far more appropriate and respectful than calling him Malcolm in a research paper.

4.  Unless you’re directly addressing your reader – and unless you’re writing a letter or a speech, you’ll almost never directly address your reader in academic or professional writing – do NOT use the pronoun “you.”  Get in the habit of substituting “one” or “people” where you want to use “you.”  For example, “one may experience feelings of lightheadedness and blurred vision just prior to a stroke” is far more appropriate than saying “you may experience.”  While it’s true that *I* – Mrs. Chili – may experience these things, that’s not the point you’re trying to make.

5.  Along the same lines, please be particularly careful that you define who “they” is in your work.  “They claim that 65% of all high school graduates can’t locate Australia on a map” is an unacceptable claim unless you’ve told us who “they” is.  Likewise, if you’re talking about two or more people, make sure we know who the pronouns refer to.  For example, “he stood for peaceful resistance and didn’t hold with his policy of militarism and active revolt” makes no sense.  Rewrite that to say “Dr. King stood for peaceful resistance and didn’t hold with X’s policy of militarism and revolt.”  Much clearer, that.

6.  It’s worth your time and effort to make annotated bibiliographies.  Speaking from years of research paper writing experience, I can tell you that many’s the time that I have needed a particular source, only to realize that I didn’t take good enough notes to be able to find the piece that I was looking for.  It doesn’t have to be all formal and pretty, but do take enough notes so that you can find that ONE sentence that you want to quote to really nail your paper together.  Trust me on this one.

7.  I’m certainly not going to tell you how to budget your time, but you may want to reconsider your habit of 2 a.m.-the-morning-before paper writing, especially in light of item #1 on this list.

8.  Work on developing a professional voice.  It’s certainly fine – and important, I think – that your own voice come through in your writing, but if you regularly pepper your speech with “dude” and “like” and “ya know,” be aware that these might come through in your writing, and that these have no place in academic work.  Don’t be flippant, don’t make claims that you can’t support, and don’t conclude a paper with “and that’s all I have to say about that.”  I don’t appreciate it, and neither will any of your other professors.

9.  DO NOT write your papers to say only what you think your professors want to hear.  Any good instructor will respect your right to express an opinion that differs from one they hold, but only if you can do so in a way that’s comprehensive, rational, and respectful.  I encorage my students to disagree with me – and to go out on limbs they’re not sure will bear their weight – but I do not appreciate students who are contrary for its own sake.  Remember the wisdom of Taylor Mali; state what you believe in a manner which bespeaks the conviction with which you believe it.  Don’t kiss up, and don’t pander.  Think your own thoughts.

10.  Remember that you have my personal email address.  USE IT.  Just because I won’t be your teacher after the 15th doesn’t mean I stop caring about what happens to you.  I will happily proofread your drafts, offer suggestions on where and how to look for good sources for your research, and teach you about the proper use of commas and apostrophes.  I’ll still be here, all you’ve got to do is shout out.


Filed under about writing, compassion and cooperation, composition, critical thinking, ethics, Grammar, great writing, Local U., self-analysis, Teaching, ten things Tuesday, the good ones, The Job

I Want a Crystal Ball for Christmas

My professional future is not so clear.

I was not asked back to teach at L.U. this spring.  Of course, this comes as no surprise to me, and I’m not even a little dejected by it.  My boss went out of his way to make sure that I knew the possibility of ’round-the-calendar employment at the university was mighty slim but, of course, that didn’t stop me from holding out just the tiniest bit of hope that he’d maybe find a class to toss my way.  Alas, this is not to be; as it is, Dr. C said that he’s having trouble finding sufficient classes to keep all the TAs working.

Knowing that I wasn’t going to be coming back to teach in January, I headed off to Dr. C’s office to see if I could get some advice on what my next move should be.  He invited me in and we chatted for a bit about the problems of adjunct work in colleges and universities, about the fact that lecturers tend to keep their positions despite their “crappy pay and lousy benefits,” and whether or not it might be fruitful for me to pursue another degree – possibly even a Ph.D. – to make myself a more attractive prospect.

Dr. C mused a bit about this last question, then asked me, seemingly out of the blue, if I had a certification to teach in public schools.  I do, and he immediately suggested that I start applying to the area high schools.  He even mentioned a few specific schools where I should somehow work his name into my letter of inquiry; it seems that he feels he’s got some pull in these places that might be useful to me if I were to aim for a job there.

Here’s the thing, though; I don’t know if I would be well suited to teach in a high school.

Dr. C seems to think that, given a little bit of runway, I would be a fantastic high school teacher.  “You can stand up to the kids,” he said, “and they’ll still know that you care about them.  You’d love it.”  Of this, I have absolutely no doubt.  With one or two notable exceptions, I have loved my students; I am certain that my particular brand of maternal professionalism would be beneficial to a great number of high school kids.  When I was a troubled teenager, I would have welcomed a teacher like me in my life; someone who held me to high standards because she knew both that I was worth the effort and that I was capable of meeting her expectations.  The idea of having a whole school year with kids appeals to me, too.  I’m sometimes frustrated by the fleeting nature of the relationships that I build with my students.  A semester just isn’t long enough.

On the other hand, though, while I’m CERTAIN that my personality is well-suited to high school students, I’m almost equally certian that it’s NOT suited to the professional enviornment.  I’m not sure that I will be able to toe the lines that some of my friends who teach in high schools have to toe.  I don’t know that I could endure with stoic silence some of the bullshit policies and unreasonable demands that my friends have to put up with.  I’m pretty sure, as well, that I’d lose my job the first time a parent tells me that I’m being too hard on their little darlings when I hold them to standards and allow them to suffer the consequences when they don’t.

More than my concerns about doing damage to my career by being ill-equipped to comport myself in a way appropriate to the high school culture is my concern about taking on a truly full-time gig.  Mr. Chili’s work is such that he is occasionally required to be away from home for stretches of time – not often, certainly, but enough that my having a high degree of flexibility in my schedule is necessary.  Even if that weren’t the case, our financial situation is such that I don’t have to work full time, and I really do believe that my primary responsibility in these years is to be a strong, supportive, and available parent to my daughters.  I’m just not sure that I can devote enough of myself to being a good full-time teacher while continuing to be an effective and present mother, too.

I talked to my husband about it the other night and we came to the conclusion that, for now, high school probably isn’t the best place for me.  I’m going to re-work my C.V. over the Christmas break and send packets out to a bunch of the smaller schools in the area after the first of the year.  I was invited back to TCC to teach a public speaking course through March – I’ll still be teaching after December – but I can’t foresee any more work with TCC as they’re closing the school in 2009.  I want to have something lined up so that I’ll be working continuously from now until I’m hired back at Local U. in the fall.


Filed under colleagues, concerns, critical thinking, frustrations, I love my boss, job hunting, Learning, Local U., out in the real world, self-analysis, Teaching, The Job

Grammar Wednesday

I’m taking this week’s Grammar Wednesday fodder from two things that were brought to my attention by readers and friends.

Dudley called me the other day.  He’s an old and dear friend of mine, and he’s known about my personal blog for a long time.  He only recently found out about this site, though (and I’m not sure how he missed it because I cross-reference them a lot, but that’s not relevant to this conversation).  Anyway, he called with a request:

“You’ve probably already covered it before,” he said, “but it bugs me and I want to get your take on it.  What’s up with people who say ‘I could care less’?”

I DID cover this already, at the behest of California Teacher Guy (to whom I can no longer link because his school is being, well, let’s just say that they’re not terribly open-minded about the free exchange of ideas).  The post is here, but I’ll reiterate for those who don’t feel like clicking through:

What people are really saying when they say they “could care less” is that they actually DO care, at least a little.  If they didn’t care at all, then they’d not be able to care less – they’d go into negative caring territory, and that just doesn’t make any sense.  What these people mean to say is that they couldn’t care less – that they don’t care at all and just don’t have it in them to care any less than they do.

The other bit I’d like to have a look at falls under the category of misplaced modifiers.  Kizz sent me an article from Feministing (which I can’t link to at the moment – I’m working on a “foreign” computer and I can’t make it do all of my bidding…).  The article is relevant to the piece I wrote the other day about gay marriage rights, and in it, the author says “Growing up, my parents made sure that their children knew that our rights were fought for…and the how and why behind those battles.”

The author intended the “growing up” to modify her and her siblings, but the way the sentence is written, the “growing up” actually modifies the parents.  This is something my students have a terrible time with in their own writing, and while I haven’t come up with any really FUNNY misplaced modifiers, I have gotten things like “after my grandmother died, she freaked out.”  In the prior sentence, the student was talking about his mother and how close she was to the grandmother, but the sentence he wrote has the grandmother freaking out after her own death.

That’s all I’ve got for you today.  I hope your Wednesday is as good as mine is going to be!

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Filed under Grammar

Just Rip My Heart Out, Kid

Leanne is a student in one of my L.U. classes.  Since the beginning of the semester, Leanne has been mostly present – as in, in her seat – but never really engaged.  She doesn’t volunteer information in class, she’s never been part of the conversations, and she often doesn’t have an answer when I call on her; her strategy is to summarize what the kid who spoke before her just said (I guess that means at least I can be sure she’s listening).  She’s always felt to me like she’s just putting in her time.

Leanne bombed the second paper (her first was no shining example of the writing craft, either, but I didn’t expect a lot from the students’ first effort as college kids).  Her task was to analyze an issue and discuss three different viewpoints on it – those who agree, those who disagree, and those who agree or disagree, but with conditions.  Either Leanne didn’t understand the question or she didn’t bother to do any thinking; her paper was a mismash of quotes and disjointed generalizations.  I refused to grade her paper – I didn’t want to give her another failing grade, and I didn’t feel like wasting my time reading what was clearly not standard work.

I kept Leanne after class today and had a good, long chat with her.  She freely admitted that she didn’t do the work that she was supposed to.  Every time she sat down to write, she claimed, she just came up blank.  She didn’t come to me for help because she just couldn’t bring herself to care that much; I think she figured it wouldn’t matter whether she conferenced or not – either way, she was going to do badly.  She wasn’t happy with the topic she chose, she didn’t care about the issue, she didn’t seem to care about much.

As we talked, I could sense her starting to ease off of her defenses a little bit – it seemed as though she wanted to talk to me, so I gave her the opportunity.  I asked her how her other classes were going; was ours the only one she was struggling with?  She hastened to assure me that ours was her favorite class, but that she was failing two other of her courses, too.  Do they kick people out for failing two classes?  Was she going to fail my class, as well?  As she asked me these questions, I started to wonder.  I took a chance.

“Leanne,” I asked, “Honey, why are you here?”

She sort of stared at me, deer-in-the-headlights style, for a couple of breaths, and then she gave it to me.  It hit me so hard that I remembered every word she said:

“I’m here because it’s what my parents want.  If I screw this up, it’ll be my fourth time disappointing them, and I just don’t know if I can live with that.”

Holy shit, you guys;  WHAT do I do with THAT?!


Filed under compassion and cooperation, concerns, failure, Questions, Teaching, Yikes!

You Don’t Get It, Do You?

My chin-scratcher turned in his “paper” the other day (and yes; the quotation marks are deliberate).  After procrastinating – for perhaps far too long – about what he was going to use for a topic, he decided that the expedient thing to do would be to cut-and-paste his three page paper from four different sources.

Now, here’s the thing; he did not plagiarize.  Everything he’s got in there is properly cited.  The problem is that I doubt there are a dozen words in there that are actually his own.


I’m putting a zero on the paper and scheduling a conference with the boy and, perhaps, my boss.  The point of this exercise was to get the students to focus on analysis and critical thinking, and Chin-Scratcher did neither.  What’s more is that I don’t think it occurs to him that he did anything wrong.

1 Comment

Filed under about writing, concerns, dumbassery, ethics, failure, frustrations, I love my boss, student chutzpah, Teaching, Yikes!