Holding Back The Tears

Why should it take so long to find one’s preferred learning style? How many years does it take to earn a doctorate? Why is it only now, taking an American Sign Language class taught in a voice-free zone, that I understand that voiced environments have been just about too much for me for just about as long as I can remember. The professor, a colleague, hands out a page with facial expressions we are to master during the course of the next several weeks and learn to use them when signing corresponding words and ideas. It is all I can do to restrain the cascade of tears that threaten as I glance at things I would barely know how to feel, let alone express. Extreme? Perhaps. But someone out there understands in her bones what I am writing about. I know that I am not the only one on Planet Earth who has lived with low-grade panic for so long that “feeling the fear and doing it anyway” is no longer even an understatement. I felt a modicum of relief when someone or circumstance, some decade or more ago now, provided me with the ‘hyper-vigilance‘ frame. But, absent a way to redirect one’s chronic thought patterns, or an understanding or diagnosis for the accompanying disorders, one remains trapped, as it were in her own living nightmare.
Chicken or Egg? I don’t know. All I know is today, for the first time in 20 years of teaching (and, by the way, as a direct result of a thought that had room to rise during a meditation workshop at this semester’s convocation) I began my class in a darkness punctuated only by the sound of my voice reading something to my students that mattered to me. Light filtered in from the muted projection screen and a shaded window high in the wall behind which was an overcast desert sky. All of that is to say, that today, 20 years into teaching and counting, was the first day I started class within MY comfort zone.

Slowing Down to Ramp Up

Today I held Preparatory Composition for men only. Women will come to class Wednesday. A break to catch up and regroup after the Midterm may be a good thing to incorporate from here on. We’ll see what the women make of it. Today’s discussant gave us a choice of freewriting topics. The men chose to write about the drug Krokodil which “eats” users in lieu of writing about industry giants’ fight to squash a California referendum requiring all foods to have labels disclosing the chemicals used in their production.

From the discussion following seven minutes of freewriting we went to pairs answering the question, what has learning been like for you as a male, and then back to group discussion before revising the concluding paragraphs of each midterm to serve as the introduction to the revised one, due next Monday when both men and women will be in attendance.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.        Alvin Toffler

I’ve got more thinking to do about the effect of cohort education, technology and hybrid classes on the teaching and learning of composition. But this is a good start. In the meantime, one of my kids isn’t sleeping. I say ‘one of my kids’ because I consider them mine on loan for at least the semester. And this one while, like the majority who are young enough to be mine chronologically, is an island child and homesick. I mention that I noticed he seemed more quiet than usual as we emerge from opposite sides of the lavatory after class. He says he hasn’t been sleeping and that it is beginning to interfere with things. I listen as he elaborates, fighting his emotions. I tell him a few of the island resources available to him in this often unbearable desert and promise to shoot him a direct message on edmodo as I find more. For a moment, we are able to believe he is not alone. For a moment we are able to imagine there is something for this kind of displacement. I look over my shoulder as our paths diverge once down the staircase and outside. I see him disappear as if through the years of my own experiences with displacement, internal exile I have called it. These are the ones for whom I want to build and staff a dormitory even though we are at a commuting community college. These are the ones I wish never had to leave home, those precious members of a global diaspora who know who we are, who we miss and will.

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Today, September 11th, in Migrant Literature

I wanted to share a moment of silence and share a poem, Alabanza, by Martin Espada as a way in to preparing for the Collaborative Midterm. I ended up talking about how September 11th was a defining moment for me as an educator. I had no idea that the topic the discussant would select would give me time to process and explore what was underneath this desire. He’d simply asked:

What era was the most interesting to you and why?

I began writing and found at once that pre-911 is the most important era in the life of my heart. In my life as a teacher, it has become the line in the sand I can not cross over. Now, it is the questions that I find most compelling, not the answers. Why do we believe what we believe, not what. How do we know who we are? Does who we think ourselves to be have to come at another’s expense? The Lesson Plan that went, for all intents and purposes, out the window is pasted below. And yet, perhaps my mission was accomplished after all.
Lesson Plan
Date    11 September 2012
Class    ENG 223
Action Items: Building Community Through Contradicting Conditioning
Course Objectives Purpose (Objective)
By the end of this activity, students will understand how to complete and submit Background Research and why each element is required.
Demonstration of Mastery
Evidence of mastery includes ability to identify and discuss:

  • choices they have made based on conditioning choices they have made based on free will, rational thinking
  • elements of the Team Teaching / Collaborative Midterm
  • the impact of who they are and how they see the world
  • interplay of key ideas, attitudes and social justice issues related toBig 8 social identifiers
  • literary vocabulary
  • apply schools of criticism

Modalities Visual, Auditory
Intelligences Verbal-linguistic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal
Seven Habits    1 Be Pro-active, 2 Begin with the End In Mind, 4 Think Win/Win, 5 Seek First to Understand, 8 Voice
Methodology    Large Group & Cooperative Groups
Freewriting / Anticipatory Set
Anais Nin Quote: We see the world not as it is but as we are.
Individuals select a number from 1-12 and a letter from A-E these correspond to Steps to Living Compassionately & Community Guidelines on Syllabus. Small group or paired discussion.
Teaching & Learning Activities

A moment of silence is observed to remember September 11, 2001 Several examples of Background Research are discussed Teams address various aspects of upcoming Collaborative Midterm. Report to Group.
Group reviews Tips For Avoiding Plagiarism.

Individuals anticipate and list remaining questions regarding Collaborative Midterm assignment.
Survivor & Bystander Summaries
Address brainstormed questions.

Question & Answer
Clarify or expand on answered questions. All of 4MAT cycles engaged.
4MAT Cycle    Why? Imaginative Learners, What? Analytic Learners, How? Common Sense Learners, If… Dynamic Learners

Links to Resources
Tips For Avoiding Plagiarism

Conditioning and Freedom of Choice

11th Anniversary of September 11th

Thoughts On Textbook Selection

Textbook selection is not among the least of our responsibilities as a member of the faculty. Years of hearing from students that their “money is funny”, their financial aid didn’t arrive in time to purchase the required text by week three of an eight-week semester, or the edition they bought secondhand didn’t have the assigned sections, I decided to go with electronic texts available in the public domain. As an avid reader of books one can hold in one’s hands and hopefully soon to be gainfully published author, I was deeply troubled with this compromise. It too proved unworkable however. There were problems with access codes, confusion between free versus paid options of the same text, and deceptive instructions for accessing the completely free resources. Still, I kept reviewing titles in hopes of finding ones worth all the hassles I knew would come with adoption. In the meantime, I decided to try something preposterous. I decided to teach an entirely online class without a required textbook. I lost one student who found the format described below “boring” and withdrew before Week 1 ended. Those who remained wrote things like the following in their Legacies:

Utilize everything because it will only make you a better student not only in this class but in future classes as well… I really did not find any part of this class useless.  It was all useful and I will take away a lot from this course, more than any other course I have taken that is for sure. (J.I. SP12)

There are many course objectives, but the ones that helped me the most were; setting realistic and attainable goals, reading texts with improved focus, comprehension, and retention, presenting clear oral and written reports, and managing priorities effectively. While you are doing your Resource Research you will have to read a lot of different articles.  Some of them, I had to read a few times to comprehend.  This class definitely helped me to read and be more focused on the subject.  For a lot of the assignments you will be responsible for writing paragraphs with fresh insight you gained.  You will also be responsible for writing feedback to your fellow classmates.  For the Midterm and Final you will have to write a Paper.  This has helped me to think about the structure of my writing.  Of course because things are due at a certain time and some assignments require more time than others; this has helped me with setting realistic goals and managing priorities effectively. (T.F. SP12)

The following is excerpted from an email sent to a publisher’s representative regarding a book I considered but declined to adopt. It is offered in hopes of shedding light on one thought process during book selection.

At long last I am able to send a few words of feedback on the text, Z. Deep apologies for the delay.
I was considering the requested title for my College Success course but find the text too dense and layout unappealing. This spells disaster for new and novice-readers breaking it into the academy.

Last semester, I did not use a textbook. Instead, I posted a weekly topic and had students post links to different resources (conduct & contributeResource Research)on the same theme with a proposed assignment. It worked well. This Fall I will require students to complete one assignment from a different classmate each week in addition to reading and responding to classmates’ posts with comments about the assignment’s usefulness and suggestions for transferability beyond our class.

Moving in this way from theory to practice of ‘college success’ and several course objectives seems to build critical reading and thinking skills and expose students to a broader cross-section of resources than using a textbook does traditionally. At this juncture, where the rubber hits the road, learners must polish their decision-making, time management (to avoid duplication of links) and process-writing skills (in order to communicate the assignment) while at the same time get into the minds of multiple ‘teachers’ (fellow learner-leaders) at once.

This approach worked well enough in one subject-area that I am going to try it in Composition come Fall. I’d love to hear how others approach this issue.

Leaning Into Spring Break

It always happens yet I cannot understand it. Every semester, in the last week or so, I begin building the assignments and activities for the next. I do it to the exclusion of everything else – sleeping and grading current students’ final submissions as well. I think it has something to do with ‘leaving for America’. Perhaps that’s a bit too convenient. Perhaps it is simply a defense mechanism to delay my encounter with this cyclical reality: I will miss my students. If ever there were a time I am reminded of my feet of clay, powerlessness over my own addiction to exhaustion, this is it.