Category Archives: composition

Ten Things Tuesday

Ten things my students chose to write about for their position papers:

1.  Puppy mills.  This student went ahead with this despite my recommendations that she choose another topic.  The standard for a topic was that reasonable people could disagree about the issue, and she admitted that reasonable people could not defend the heinous practices of puppy mills and yet, there it was, a paper arguing against the heinous practices of puppy mills.  Sigh.

2.  Electric Vehicles.  This one wasn’t so bad, though it was boring to read.

3.  Abortion.  Natch.  This paper was horrendous; it was all I could do to figure out what the student was trying to say.

4.  Electroshock therapy.  While this student started off strong, the paper fell apart about a quarter of the way in; he focused more on the history of the practice than on arguing that the way it’s currently being applied should be reconsidered.

5.  Animal testing.  This paper was completely incomprehensible.  Observe, a cut-and-pasted paragraph from the essay:

Martasian (student’s beliefs about animal research) found that students have more negative attitudes towards animals testing than undergraduates involved in animal research. The study also shows pervious work by examining feeling towards two nations. Some previous studies of this kind were characterized by a single nation. The same study that involves the two nations, those nations were among the British and Americans. Newkirk (wrote the book Free the animals: the story of the Animal Liberation Front) found animal welfare is more highly developed in North American than in Britain. Two groups were recruited from Britain and the United States.

Really; I have no idea what to do with that.

6.  Gay rights.  This one appeared in a couple of my classes.  One student did okay with it; the other tried to argue that gay marriage should be banned because it does not provide a good environment for children.  Needless to say, I eviscerated that paper, pointed the kid in another direction (reasonable people can argue for the separation of civil and religious marriage, so I encouraged him to take that angle) and sent the paper back for revision.

7.  Obamacare.  I told the students that they were welcomed to write about what they thought was an important issue and that, even if I staunchly disagreed with their position, they’d get the grade if they did good work with it.  This kid got all of his information from well known right-wing propaganda machines and forwarded claims that I could debunk on Google.  I sent the paper back and told him to try again.

8.  Whaling.  This was another paper that started out with a good premise but fell apart before we got to page two.

9.  NASA funding.  I haven’t read this paper yet, but the kid who wrote it wrote a surprisingly effective (and entertaining) analysis about calcium, so I have high hopes.

10.  Funding for the arts in schools.  This paper is another I haven’t read yet and, to be honest, I’m kind of dreading it; the student who’s writing it hasn’t produced anything of any kind of quality all semester (AND he admitted that he started the paper the night before it was due, despite my trying to get them to run through a drafting and revision process for weeks).  Oy.




Filed under bad grammar, composition, concerns, dumbassery, failure, frustrations, I've got this kid...., Logical Fallacies, really?!, Teaching, writing, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

The Post I’ve Been Promising

So!  I promised you all a post that recounted my experiences at Classical Private School.  I’m sorry I’m only getting to it now; I’ve been preoccupied with the (soul-sucking) job hunt and have kind of been avoiding thinking about CPS a whole lot.

The last thing I wrote about, if memory serves, is that I’d agreed to teach a writing workshop as a volunteer for six weeks.  After a heart-to-heart with Dr. Wong, I discovered that CPS had no budget and couldn’t pay me (or, Dr. Wong assured me, she’d have hired me by that point).  She gave me the impression that she was fairly confident that their budget for the 13-14 school year would be sufficient to bring me on board, though, so that was encouraging.

In any event, I taught the writing workshop for the six weeks.  It was a little bumpy because the kids weren’t sure what the expectations were; some of them were under the impression that it was a required course while others were sure it was a volunteer deal, so I didn’t get consistent attendance.  Two of the kids were convinced that they didn’t NEED any writing instruction (though Dr. Wong made a point of assuring them that they did) and one boy spent most of the time goofing off (there’s always one!), but the rest of the group did really well.  Once they were reassured that I wasn’t teaching grammar, they kind of got into it (the adults in the school kept insisting on calling it a “grammar class” until I corrected them in front of the students – yes; I’d be teaching grammar, but it was a writing workshop.  The focus was on the writing process, not on grammar, per se).

I pulled out some of my more successful lesson plans for the course; we did a unit about the basics of the writing process (topic, purpose, audience!) and about the different rhetorical situations one encounters (you need to know topic, purpose, audience before you start writing so you can be sure you’re addressing yourself properly to the situation and the reader).  We reviewed some of my more stunningly awful emails (that’s ALWAYS a popular lesson).  We played the synonym game.

After I got them used to the idea that writing is a process and that it’s okay (good, even!) to start out really, really badly, we wrote.  I had them write personal narratives (tell me the story of your name) and, I think, it went very well.  The kids work-shopped their papers with each other (using some very clear and specific guidelines I supplied for them; workshops are only effective if you know how to do them, and they had never done them before meeting me) and ran through several drafts of their papers.  What was most fun was that a bunch of them didn’t really know their name story, so they had to go home and ask about it.  When I came back after we’d started these papers, a couple of kids were excited about the things they’d learned, and they reported that they really enjoyed the writing once they felt they had a good handle on what they wanted to say.

The one big hiccup was that, one afternoon, I was completely usurped in a really disrespectful and inconsiderate way.  I drove an hour each way to get to this place.  Keep in mind, as well, that I was doing this as a volunteer.  Well, one afternoon, I arrived and was asked if I would mind if Dr. Palmer interrupted my class for a few minutes to let the kids know about an elective he was going to be launching in the coming weeks.  Of course I don’t mind, so I say so.  Well, Dr. Palmer walks in five minutes into my class (we’d barely gotten started) and proceeds to take up more than my hour talking about the course he was designing around the acoustics of electric guitars.

Seriously.  I sat there waiting for him to finish, and I ended up having to leave well before he was done.  I was furious.

Beyond that, though, it went well.  The kids reported, in their evaluations, that they learned quite a lot about their own writing process in the short time we spent together.  They offered suggestions for what they’d like to know more about (were we able to spend more time) and expressed some satisfaction that they were noticing that writing felt a little less ominous to them for our having worked together.

I was sent off after my last class with a small offering to help offset my gas expenses, a coffee mug, and a CPS mouse pad.  Though Dr. Wong was not in the building that day, the Dean of Students offered me what I thought were heartfelt thanks and an eagerness that we maintain communications.  I left feeling pretty confident that someone would be in touch to offer me a position in the fall.

I haven’t heard a thing from any of them since.

Seriously.  Crickets.  No calls, no emails, nothing.

I’m not going to call them.  At this point, I’m reasonably sure that if they could have hired me, they would have, and I’m not in a position to accept a long-distance volunteer teaching gig.  I’m disappointed, though; CPS wouldn’t have been a perfect fit for me, but I think that I could have done some pretty significant good there.

I wish them all the best going forward.  Maybe our paths will cross again sometime.


Filed under about writing, analysis, colleagues, composition, critical thinking, failure, I love my job, Learning, lesson planning, rhetoric, Teaching, Teaching Writing Seminar, The Job, writing, Yikes!, You're kidding...right?

First Draft Friday

I love alliteration!

SO!  The first draft of The Paper is done!  It clocks in at 22 pages (plus 5 pages of sources), the conclusion is pathetic, and I still have to go back through and cite some sections, but it is a complete draft.

Who wants to read it?  Email me at mrschili at comcast dot net and I’ll send you a copy.  Be forewarned; I want good, constructive feedback on this bad boy; if you’re going to read this (and I’ll be very grateful if you do), I’m going to ask that you be clear and specific about what I need to do to make it better.

My goal is to have it in front of my professor in second-draft form sometime early to mid next week (I’m aiming for Wednesday, but since she hasn’t given me a deadline, I’ve got some flexibility).  The final is due on the 15th (my deadline, not hers; I think she gave me through the 18th, but I’d rather put it to bed sooner rather than later).

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Filed under about writing, analysis, colleagues, composition, critical thinking, doing my own homework, GLBTQ issues, Local U., Mrs. Chili as Student, politics, self-analysis, writing

Reading Response Essay #1

I’m going to admit to being a little nervous about this.

The assignment says, in part (I’ve left out the insignificant details),  “each student will maintain a weekly reading response journal that is based on the reading response questions that are posted on BlackBoard… Students should respond using examples from the readings to illustrate your points.  The format of the response should include the following: 1) date and response question, 2) discussion and response of the question using at least two examples from the assigned readings to illustrate points, 3) response and discussion of the question based on your personal opinion/experience, and 4) demonstrated critical analysis of the question and integration of the assigned readings into your opinion/experience.

Since I’m still not sure about what the expectations are for written assignments beyond what I’ve got there, I’m not sure that I’ve met them. Regardless, here’s what I’ve come up with for the first attempt.  Critique the hell out of it, wouldja?


Reading Response Question
September 1, 2012

In reading #1, Diana Gittins asks “what is a family and is it universal?”  Based on all of the Ferguson readings for 9/7/12, how would you answer Gittins’ questions?  Finally, define traditional notions of “the family” and discuss why we cling to traditional notions of family if, in reality, they represent such a small percentage of families today in the US?

The readings from Ferguson make clear that the notion of “family” is, at best, nearly impossible to define.  While it is true that every culture has an expression of “family,” no single, coherent definition can be applied to the structure that can be expected to encompass every permutation of family; there are simply too many factors to consider that make the composition a universal definition impossible.

The “traditional” notion of family, at least in this country and at this moment in time, is a heteronormative, male-dominated structure consisting of a bread-winning father, a caretaker mother, and the natural children of that couple’s state- and church-sanctioned marital union.  Seen from the outside, it could be argued that my family is the white, Western archetype; my husband (though not always the primary decision-maker) is currently the primary breadwinner; I left my job teaching high school to pursue a post-graduate certificate and, as a consequence, am only working part-time.  We were legally wed in a church, though neither of us subscribes to an organized faith.  Our two daughters were conceived and borne in wedlock.  For all intents and purposes, my husband and I are representative of the “perfect” middle class American family.

There are a number of ways in which the day-to-day of our family differs, though, from what I understand the “conservative” narrative concerning families should be.  Our division of labor isn’t based on traditional gender roles; though it’s true that my husband mows the lawn and snow-blows the driveway, he does those things not because I’m not able to or because he thinks I can’t, but rather because he’s the only one of us who can finesse those machines to do his bidding.  He is just as likely as I am to do dishes or run a few loads of laundry.  I see to the care and keeping of the vehicles and often execute home repairs myself.  We saw – and continue to see – equally to both the emotional and physical care of our children; we each bathed and diapered the babies, we each help with homework, we each provide for the varying needs of our growing children (in fact, my husband is the one who cares for the girls when they’re vomiting; I simply haven’t the stomach for that kind of sickness).  Decisions about household expenses are shared between us, as are the continuing demands of parenting teenage daughters.  While there’s a lot about our family that looks “traditional,” there is much about our relationships that deviate from that idea (at least, as I understand the current conservative narrative).

Ours is a unique situation, though, and there are as many expressions of family as there are individuals who make them.  Considering the components of race, class, sexual orientation, educational level, profession, and physical surroundings and the effect that these influences have on the ways in which domestic arrangements are made and maintained, one needs also to take into account the impacts of faith, “traditional” definitions, social expectations, and governmental policies on the ways in which we arrange ourselves into family units.

My sister and her wife are an excellent example of a family that finds itself outside the sanctioned definition of “family,” though admittedly that definition is changing.  I find it interesting that even those who are accepting of their union as a marriage will still ask them when they plan to have children (and the more bold will ask how they plan to have them); the expectations placed on even non-traditional families to adhere to a socially acceptable pattern of behavior is pervasive.

In her article, Gittins makes the argument that while we may think we have a working definition of “family,” the reality of the various lives that people lead renders that definition unworkable.  She argues that the standards for behavior change with time and situation, that any number of forces affect the customs and social acceptability of certain practices, and that marriage and family customs have been fluid throughout human history.  To try to apply one rigid definition of family leaves out all but a wrenchingly narrow representation of people and, further, denigrates and marginalizes nearly everyone.

As to the claim that we cling to a narrow definition of family despite evidence that so few people actually live in conditions that would be recognized as meeting that definition, I’m not entirely certain that we do.  As our nation becomes more diverse, as children grow up in a more accepting and tolerant environment, and as culture and customs continue to evolve – however slowly that may be happening – so, too, do our definitions of “normal” change and adapt.  My husband and I are raising our daughters to both accept and understand that there are a number of different ways to express love and care, and that no one way is the “right” way.

I understand, because I am reasonably conscious and attentive to the political environment, that there are an alarming number of people who do cling desperately to a codified and proscribed definition of family, and who are at best deeply suspicious of and, at worst, outright hostile to people whose practices do not meet with that standard.  My thinking is that these people are either afraid of losing their privileged position as members of sanctioned institutions – and whatever control or influence that position grants them, whether real or perceived – or they are operating under the mistaken belief that allowing other ways of being to be officially condoned and recognized will somehow threaten their own rights to live as they please.  Sadly, I do know of people who genuinely believe that the acceptance of homosexual marriage will, in fact, threaten hetero marriage, and it seems that no amount of logic or placating will allay their fears.  Fortunately, these are not fears that I or my family share.

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Filed under composition, critical thinking, Mrs. Chili as Student, writing

TenThings Tuesday

Plus one!  The “let’s update Chili’s resume!” edition!  Here are eleven things that I added to my resume today.

1.  designed and taught core English courses to grades 9-12

2.  designed and implemented objectives and standards for core English courses

3.  designed, planned, and taught online “snow day” courses via web-based program

4.  led NECAP standardized test preparation for Language Arts; proficiencies rose three straight years

5.  designed and supervised independent study courses for students in writing, literary analysis, and film study

6.  designed and taught elective courses in poetry, film as literature, and Aliens and Vampires in Literature

7.  coached Poetry Out Loud team 2009-2012; regional finalist each year

8.  communicated with parents via email and in-person conferences; published a weekly informational newsletter for the school community

9.  ran quarterly book fairs at Barnes and Noble; stocked, tracked, and maintained school’s book supply

10.  Led the Socratic Society club’s weekly meetings

11.  chaperoned out-of-school activities

Now, are any of you any good at writing cold-contact cover letters?


Filed under composition, doing my own homework, I can't make this shit up..., job hunting, winging it

Quick Hit: Vignette

I gave my juniors a bunch of short story prompts inspired by a compilation of “either/or” choices in a book one of the students brought to class this morning.  The one I chose was “would you rather always lose or never play?”

I’m giving it to you just as I wrote it; it hasn’t gone through any revision or workshopping.  I’ll take whatever feedback anyone feels compelled to give.

Stacey sat in the bleachers, watching her little brother’s baseball team lose… again.  They were oh-and-19 going into this game, and the future didn’t look good.  At least this time they managed to get on the scoreboard; the run the Ducks brought in on a laughable error by the other team’s outfielder brought the number of runs scored by the team for the entire season to exactly two.

Bottom of the 9th; two outs.  Jameson was at bat.  At 13, he was still an awkward kid, and despite his 6 years in Little League, he never quite got the hitting stance right.  He held the bat like a weapon, Stacey could see Jamie’s fingers turning white in the death-grip on the thing, and he bent his knees so much that his ass stuck out at an impossible angle.  He stared at the pitcher with what looked to Stacey like a mixture of wide-eyed fear and blazing fury, and she was sure that, at any moment, the kid might storm the mound and beat the pitcher to death.

The ball came screaming toward her little brother, and he did what he always did.  The bat came flying around his body, wielded more like a broadsword than a baseball bat, and missed the ball entirely.  Stacey heard the ball thump securely in the catcher’s mitt, watched the umpire signal strike three, and watched as her brother and his fellows came to the infield to line up to congratulate yet another vanquishing team.  Stacey gathered up her bag and her jacket and thought to herself that the kids didn’t even look all that dejected.  Losing, it seems, is something that they’ve gotten comfortable with.


Filed under about writing, composition, doing my own homework, fun, Learning, Mrs. Chili as Student, writing

Film and Lit

I’m about three weeks into the new semester, and even though the new Film and Literature class isn’t really off the ground yet, I’m starting to feel really good about the class.

The central focus of the class is systems and the ways in which they work – or not – on both a micro and macro level.  The kids will be reading What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson, A Time to Kill by Grisham, Orwell’s Animal Farm, and The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal and, as each story gets read, we’ll watch films that deal with many of the same big-picture ideas.  The kids will be working on reflective essays that get them to think beyond the plots of the stories and into some of the “so what?” questions the films and stories ask us to consider.

Last week, the kids watched Forrest Gump (a couple of them, surprisingly, for the first time).  Here’s the prompt I gave them:

Consider the interplay between the system and the individual. How do personalities affect the way we perceive the effects of a system on our lives, and in what ways do personalities affect the systems that act upon us? Consider the several characters in the film; how do they deal differently with the same stimuli, and how do their different responses affect the trajectory of their lives, and the lives of others?

How would YOU answer this question?

Tune in later; I’ll give you the Shawshank Redemption prompt….


Filed under analysis, composition, critical thinking, film as literature, lesson planning, Teaching