Neither Cooking Nor Composing

The past couple of months have been weird ones. Teaching has felt really crazy; my partner moved away; stray cats were living in my basement. Sadly, that last one is a totally blog-worthy story that I’ll probably never share.

My life has been fairly preoccupied, until I went to the 2015 Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Body of water with city in background and palm trees in foreground
View from my room during the conference. I miss the sun and 80 degree weather so much!

I love 4Cs. It’s such an invigorating experience to catch up with colleagues from grad school, listen to inspiring and sometimes surprising panels, and feel like a scholar again. I always leave 4Cs feeling positively great about myself. This was certainly true of 4C15, but I also left with something else on my mind. Continue reading

It’s (Probably) In the Syllabus

The first day of classes is never an exciting one. Most students expect to get done early, no one is really “ready to work,” and most teachers try to give an extra day in case students add the course late. Because of this, we all know the first day of regular classes (meaning: excluding classes that only meet once a week, typically) is really just Syllabus Day.

Oh, Syllabus Day. You are a dreaded thing.

Here’s what I found is typical, both from my experiences as a student and as a teacher:

(1) Roll Call. Teacher inevitably mispronounces names and calls students by names they don’t actually go by. There is confusion over which “John” is present. Sometimes ice breaker activities make attendance more tolerable, but usually students just provide the bare minimum information (name, major).

(2) Pass Out And Go Through the Syllabus. Teacher attempts to avoid “reading at” students but there is no good way to do this. Teacher identifies key parts students always ask about (assignments, attendance policy, grade procedures, schedule, textbooks, etc.) If we’re lucky, 50 percent of students pay attention. Even though textbooks have been ordered for months and teacher sent e-mail about needing to purchase them, there are still several students who don’t have the book and want to know “when we need it.”

(3) Either (a) Teachers let students go early, or (b) Teacher attempts to engage students in an activity, and students spend the rest of class watching other students walk by in the hall, off to eat lunch or watch TV or do anything that isn’t sitting in this classroom, right now, with this teacher, who doesn’t seem to understand that the first day of class is always Syllabus Day.

And there you have it. That’s Syllabus Day, and I’m sure most of you are familiar with it from one side or another (or both). My least favorite part is talking at my students. They are all fully capable of reading the syllabus, without me.

The one refrain all college-level instructors seem to be repeating is “It’s in the syllabus.” There are, seriously, so many jokes about frustrated teachers telling students the answer to their question is in the syllabus. I try not to be too cranky about it, but it is unnerving to have students e-mail you with questions they could easily answer on their own, especially when they seem to need the answer ASAP and you don’t get the e-mail until the next morning.

So, this week I tried something new. Instead of Reading The Syllabus At My Students, I gave them a group activity to help them get acquainted with each other and class.

After attendance and giving a brief spiel about myself and the course, I asked students to get in groups of 3-4. Then, I told them to get to know each other. “Your teacher is saying, ‘Talk about anything that isn’t related to class!'” I joked to mine. Some of them laughed.

Then, I asked students to come up with five questions they have about class, the textbook, what they’ll be learning, or me. I had them write these down with all of their names, so that I can collect these to compile an FAQ later.

After students have questions, I showed them where to find the syllabus and schedule online (I don’t provide printed copies of anything). Then, I told them to use those documents to find the answers to their questions.

At the end of the activity, I took questions students couldn’t find the answers to. Some of them were just things I don’t think about including (“Can I eat in class?”) and some of them were things I might purposely leave off until detailed information is needed (“What are the blogs going to be about?”). In general, though, most students found the answers to their questions in the syllabus and schedule.

Before I dismiss students, I take a few minutes to direct their attention to thing I think are important. I like to make sure that I reiterate my attendance policy and why coming to class matters, as well as my late work policies. I also point out any out-of-the-usual features on the schedule, such as class cancellations for conferences or when we are meeting in other locations. I also remind them that the syllabus and the schedule are the best places to find information, and they should look there before they e-mail me because they can probably answer their own questions.

After getting through all of my first-days for this semester, I feel like this worked reasonably well. In my very first class, I had students who had actually read the syllabus prior to Day 1, so they either didn’t have many questions or were asking things I didn’t anticipate (like the eating question). But when students had not looked at the syllabus prior to coming, I could tell that they had more “basic” questions that were typically answered in the syllabus.

Overall, this was a fun activity that took a lot of pressure of me on the first day of class. It also sets the expectation that students are responsible for their own learning and that they will need to put in work and effort on their own. I like being able to set that precedent.

How do you spend the first day of class? Any advice or ideas for engaging students while still making sure they get the information they need?

Announcing My New Hobby Job

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About two months ago, I fell absolutely in love with Jamberry Nails. A former teacher-turned-friend had started selling them to make some extra cash, and she got me hooked!

Gobble Me Up! This is one of my fave Jamicures!
Gobble Me Up! This is one of my fave Jamicures!

I love having my nails painted. If you follow me on twitter or instagram, you’ve probably seen my obnoxious mani updates. Over the summer, I was really big into the gel mani — no chipping, no breakage, no dry time. But the thing I hated about it was how long it took to apply or remove! Two hours in the nail salon getting my nails done (or two hours doing it myself at home) is not really my cup of tea. Plus, I found myself accidentally gouging little chunks of my nails off when I tried to remove the gel polish. Continue reading

First Post of 2015

Oh look, it’s a new year.

Oh look, Caitlin never updates her blog.

It never fails: It seems like every year I vow to write more, to eat better, to whatever whatever whatever. Every year, I think “This will be the year when I finally. . .”

Not this year. This is not to say that I don’t have goals for 2015. But I am not going to stress myself out over resolutions I do or do not ultimately keep simply because the calendar has rolled over another year.

While I ultimately *do* hope to write more this year, I need to work on a set of writing-related goals and strategies. I was recently reading an article about the sexual practices of happy couples, and the premise was basically “If you wait until you’re in the mood, you’re never going to have sex.” But, can’t you just substitute sex for whatever it is you wait until you’re in the mood for it? Things like:

  • Eating vegetables.
  • Posting on your blog/writing
  • Going to the gym
  • Knitting a blanket

I think so, yes. And I think the idea of planning rather than waiting for spontaneous excitement is probably a good step in accomplishing whatever it is one wants to accomplish. So, in 2015, I suppose my goal is to plan my life better, a goal that applies to a lot of different facets and activities and that should, I hope, lesson the amount of stress and anxiety that occurs on a semi-regular basis when one (like myself) forgets to plan important things or things that would be helpful to hir general well-being.

But the new year is also an opportunity for introspection and reflection (two of my favorite things!). When I look back on 2014, I have to admit, it was a pretty good year: took an awesome vacation to Colorado, got a full-time job with benefits and stuff, and (re)met a pretty awesome guy. I also made some stellar knit items and did quite a bit of cooking, even though my blog doesn’t reflect that. And, of course, I created a lot of great memories with all of my wonderful friends. If 2015 is even half as awesome as 2014, it will be a good year.

I’m off to plan to make plans (that’s how it works, right?) with the goal of also being flexible when things don’t work out exactly as planned.

11/8/14: What C&C’s Reading This Week

Three Lessons from the Science of How to Teach Writing” on Education by the Numbers. This blog provides some scientific evidence from an in-press article by Steven Graham, Karen Harris, and Tanya Santangelo. Using 250 studies on teaching K-12 writing, they provide some tips for more effective writing: spend more time doing it, use the computer, and stop try to give direct grammar instruction. That last bit is my favorite. If you’re still in the drill-and-skill (skill-and-drill?) methods of teaching things like punctuation and verb tenses, please read this.

Jonathan Krohn’s “I was a Right-Wing Child Star” on Salon. Published in July 2012 (so why I am I just now seeing it?!), Krohn discusses the change in perspective he had as he aged. At 13, he spoke at CPAC; at 17 he left the conservatives (who promptly bullied him). I wonder what his political dispositions and thoughts are now, at 19?

Abby Haglage’s “Judge Could Smash Marijuana Law” on The Daily Beast. As awesome as it is that 23 states have some form of legalized marijuana use, and four states + the District of Columbia have officially legalized recreational marijuana use, the results of a case in California could, as Haglage says, “start a legal revolution.” US District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller is reviewing whether or not the DEA’s classification of marijuana as a schedule 1 substance (meaning the most addictive that has no medical use) is valid. Seems about right seeing as so many states are legalizing pot for medical use before they do for recreational use. While Haglage emphases Judge Mueller’s ruling would only apply to the specific case she’s currently reviewing, her decision could be the start of significant changes in marijuana classification and legalization.

Beenish Ahmed’s “The Global Shame of the United States: Why America Elects So Few Women” on ThinkProgress. Ahmed compares the election rates of women in various countries, putting the US at number 85. At the time of Ahmed’s writing, less than 20% of Congress was women, and some countries that we tend to view as more oppressive against women are ranked higher than us (like China, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia). In a country that sees itself as the land of freedom and equal opportunity, this is disheartening.

Eyder Peralta’s “A Win in West Virginia makes Saira Blair State’s Youngest Law Maker” on NPR. I think it’s kind of cool that an 18-year-old is politically active, especially re: my recent post. But this also scares me: a young woman who is privileged enough to be in this position and who has some anti-woman characteristics to her platform (like most woman republicans). I’m curious to follow her time as a politician, especially because its relatively easy to dismiss most political teenagers as simply regurgitating their parents’ perspectives. I can’t decide if I hope this is the case or not.

Deena Shanker’s “Chicken is Killing the Planet” on Salon. Now, this was published in September, but I just saw it in my social media today. Apparently, the USDA has approved a process for US-raised-and-slaughtered chicken to be sent to China for processing and then imported back into the US for sell and consumption. Shanker includes some disgusting facts, like “According to a 2009 USDA study, 87 percent of chicken cadavers tested positive for E. coli, feces’ favorite bacteria, just before they are packaged and sent to a store near you.” I struggle to imagine a world where this is economically practical. And if the goal isn’t for “Big Chicken” to save money in the production process and thus see more profits, what’s the impetus for this? And why, WHY, would the USDA approve this kind of process that relies on self-regulation?

Paul Buchheit’s “5 Disturbing Facts that Show the System is Rigged Against America’s Middle Class” originally published on AlterNet but now also available on Salon. I’m just going to let this gem stand alone: “Here in the U.S., with nearly a third of the world’s wealth, just 47 individuals own more than all 160 million people (about 60 million households) below the median wealth level of about $53,000.” Yowza.

Marcie Bianco’s “There’s a Horrifying Secret Behind Those Trendy Feminist T-Shirts” on Mic. The “trendy” t-shirts apparently cost about 70 USD (what?!) and the workers making them only get paid abut 1 USD per hour. How’s that for labor rights? I’ll just buy a t-shirt and make my own, thanks.

I also finished James Browning’s The Fracking King: A Novel. It follows Winston, a competitive Scrabble player, in his year at Hale Boarding School for Boys, where tap water can be set on fire because of nearby fracking. It was a pretty solid read, but I’m not sure I have enough to say about it to write up a full review. We’ll see after I’ve thought on it a few more days.

 

CnC Watches: Gone Girl

Last night, Travis and I saw Gone Girl with a couple of friends. Our immediate reactions were not positive, and twelve hours later I’m still attempting to synthesize how I really feel about what Gone Girl attempts to do and what it really does.

Image from Buzzfeed.

If you aren’t familiar, Gone Girl stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike and is based on the acclaimed novel by Gillian Flynn, published in 2012. I have not read the novel, so I can really only speak to the movie itself–although friends who have both read the novel and see the movie say the movie sticks to the book relatively well.

The movie has a 79 on Metacritic, based on 39 positive reviews and 10 mixed reviews from “a large [curated] group of the world’s most respected critics.”

Because it got no negative reviews from “the world’s most respected critics.” Continue reading

2014: A Political Coming-of-Age?

I feel like I woke up today and was, all of a sudden, a political being.

Honestly, I would probably buy an abortion Barbie. It’s about time Barbie did something political. Image from Breitbart.com

I was disappointed by the Texas gubernatorial race. It has no effect on me whatsoever, but I was sad to see the way the campaigning went and that Greg Abbott beat her out 59-39 (if we’re rounding to whole numbers). Was I surprised?

No. Not in the least. But I like Wendy Davis and that’s enough for the results to bother me, even if they were expected.

I was disappointed by the Indiana races. Watching my county and neighboring counties lean Republican. Again, this is not surprising all things considered: there are a lot of white, conservative individuals in my area. But these are candidates who I disagree with, who I’ve been stuck with before thanks to redistricting, and who now I tried to vote out of office and I’m still stuck with them.

In general, the election is disheartening for a young, progressive woman who is politically aware, which I think is part of the reason I woke this morning to both sad election results and a new-found (maybe?) sense of politicalness.

Of course, I have always been political, partially because my family has always been political. My parents encouraged this in my brother and me by not sheltering us from adult conversation and instead asking us to form our own ideas and opinions about the world around us. And while my pro-union, democratic leaning parents are certainly part of why I’m a progressive individual, they aren’t the be-all-end-all. Because we have disagreed on things, and I have watched my parents come around to different perspectives in the last ten years or so.

And it’s because of this background that I’m deeply disappointed in Millennials for being, stereotypically, a-political. I have many friends who I can say with a reasonable degree of certainty did not turn out to vote yesterday, and who likely could not even name one political candidate from our midterm elections. So it was with this perspective–that many of my peers don’t give a damn–that I found myself reading Erin Gloria Ryan’s “Election 2014 Postmortem: We Fucking Did This To Ourselves” over on Jezebel this afternoon. Ouch. Continue reading