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Thoughts at the End of Another Semester

I love teaching.
I love the opportunity to put on shoes and lipstick and leave my little cave every once and awhile.
I love being around when new writers experience epiphanies and evolution.

I also find it hard sometimes.
Trotting out the shoes and lipstick, yeah, but also trying to figure out how to be most helpful to my students.
What resources to offer... what to say and how to say it... what to require...
How to balance encouragement and critique... how to stay organized and on track... how to assess creative work...

At the end of each semester, I reflect on how it all went (okay, so I'm procrastinating because my grades are due today).
Here's what I've come up with this time around:

1. Sitting in a circle is a good idea, even when I'm giving a sort of lecture.

2. The fewer lectures the better.

3. The more reading aloud the better.

4. Humor's a good idea, too.

5. Workshops are richest when there are many voices. I've resisted "required commenting" for a long time, but I think I'm going to experiment with a new format next semester to get every single student to speak up more regularly.

6. Online workshops also work best when communication is frequent and vital. Students say they want to be left alone to work at their own pace, but that actually just allows them slip away into the great interweb void. I need to play a little bit more of the street performer to keep everyone engaged from beginning to end.

7. Meeting in person, at least once, might really, really, really help an online workshop gel. Just attaching faces to names and saying, "Please pass the cream." That sort of thing. Next semester, I plan to schedule an in-person get-together right out of the gate.

8. I work best when I have a particular day or two per week dedicated to teaching prep and student critique. I need to get in the zone through immersion. A little bit here-a little bit there is not efficient or inspiring.

9. Trying to discern between a student who needs a little empathy and a student who's taking me for a sucker is.not.easy.at.all. So, although I do get burned at least once a semester, I'm still going to err on the side of a little empathy.

10. Not all students have library cards. I'm seriously thinking of making this a required part of all my syllabi from now on. I mean, it'll look like a requirement but it will really be a gift. Y'know what I mean?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some really dynamite portfolios to read.
The written word is alive and well in Austin, Texas.
Indeed it is...

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Have you read any Parker Palmer? His words on teaching and circles are lovely.

Yes, and I've listened to some podcasts with his stuff. He's done some good thinking on depression, too. I'll find exactly what he has to say about circles...

I teach creative writing as well so it's nice to hear that others struggle with some of the same things I do. I especially liked your point about "required commenting" - some of my students seem SO terrified of giving any sort of feedback that I think I'll have to really think about implementing something like this. Good luck with grading!

I really like a more organic flow in my classes but sometimes people need a little nudge...

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Tanita Says :)

DOUBLE Yippee!!!

I had no idea, Susan -- thanks!!

Tanita Says :)

Austin seems like such an exciting place to be for writers.

Ooh, I feel ya on #9, I truly, truly do... it's hard. But blessed are the empathetic; in the end, the student only screws themselves if they're running a scam... your mind remains at rest if you give out what you expect to get.

You must be such an awesome teacher. I'd be glad to take your class.

Blessed are the empathetic.
Shouldn't that be an international motto or something???

Good thoughts. I related to number 8 (I just can't quiz on everything and if someone didn't do the reading it is their loss) and cheered for number 9.

Hear, hear on the library cards.

I put that in just for you :)

I really can't quite imagine how people function without regular library use. If I bought everything I read and watched and listened to, I'd have no money.

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Thanks for that, Jenn. I always facilitate but I think a little bit more form might serve us well. I'll keep you posted...

How I would love to sit in one of your classes, Liz!

I use the talking circle with my elementary students. When I used to do this, my students would invariably look at me whenever they spoke; the conversation string would usually go from me to a student, back to me as I call on the next student, and so on.

Recently a colleague gave me one idea that I love--at the beginning of this school year, I encouraged students to look at each other--not just me--when we're having a conversation. It took some practice, but now when they respond, they'll look at the person whose comment inspired theirs, whomever that may be. I swear sometimes they forget I'm even there. :-)

I've seen this bring out students who tend to be shy, and I wonder if it's because addressing a peer is less intimidating that addressing the teacher.

Such a good thing to mention -- it just wouldn't occur to some students, I guess. I love it -- thanks!

I honestly have no clue how you do it... even with the numbered outline.
my humble thoughts-
5. I know I occasionally held my tongue (though my problem is generally the opposite) on the 'if you can't say something nice' rule, though sub in 'productive' for nice. Not all of us are so masterful at finding some sort of silver lining to a piece, and there are nights, especially with the more pompous of the crowds, where I sat quietly not because I couldn't think of anything to say, and certainly not because I'm shy, but because, had I opened my mouth, we all would have wished that I hadn't.

7. Hallelujah!

9. I am eternally grateful for this sort of philosophy. I've probably had more than my fair share of teachers who abide by it. I'm hoping my luck doesn't run out (I've given up on being one of those organized, prepared people). And when it's after midnight and I'm weeping over the coffee table littered with poems (or math problems or ASL stories or welding plans) and I finally give up for the night and send that cowering, apologetic email (the one that is always slightly embarrassing and overly emotional when read again the next morning) I wish for teachers like you.

You're a rockstar, Liz. And I'm majorly jonesing for another one of your classes.

Kelsi. Thank you. This all means a lot coming from you...

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