Fri, 03 Jul 2015 00:44:38 GMT
_Courtesy of the amazing Todd Kaneko_
Comp is a big part of my teaching load—about 75% of it, on average,
the rest being creative and business writing. I know way too many
people who are getting their writing lives killed off because they are
teaching too much comp as adjuncts, so I believe in streamlining and
efficiency (and automation) so my writing can continue. Also, my FYC
syllabus is online, although I will be updating it over the next week
or so to get ready for my own classes. It;s pretty standard, I think.
Check it at http://faculty.gvsu.edu/kanekot/wrt150/index.htm
Also, my friend Charles Lowe has put together an awesome open source
textbook that is available for free online. I use it a lot for
readings. Check it at www.writingspaces.org
Here are some tips from me for surviving your first (or fifth or
fifteenth) semester of comp. This does not apply to CW workshops, as
those are an entirely different sort of beast. Also, I teach at a
four-year university. I have not taught comp at community college or
in other non-university setting, so I cannot speak to tha t experience.
(1) Be professional in the classroom. Treat them like adults and they
will have to act like adults. Don't show fear—those kids can smell
fear and many will respond negatively. Treat them with respect and be
professional. Keep that classroom a safe place for ideas and
conversation. Attack your subject with passion, even if you have to
fake it. If you act like a grad student, they will treat you like a
grad student. (They don't respect grad students.)
(2) The illusion of investment—as an adjunct or a TA, you are not paid
nearly enough to let the class take over your writing life—remember
that credit hours, while supposedly equal in terms of workload across
the disciplines, is not so for faculty, and comp is unusually grading
heavy work for the most part. When it comes to comp, I can't want to
fully invest in everyone who comes into my classroom, and most of them
aren't invested in the course anyways, to start with. I don't even
particularly like teaching comp—it's better than construction work,
but I'd rather be writing or teaching creative or business writing. So
I have learned to do an excellent job of faking it.
When I am in the room with my students, I am in the room 100%. I use
their names (even if I just pick one at random from the roll sheet)
when I lecture, as if I am speaking directly to them individually. I
use about specific students' work as readings for class to show how we
read and understand their work. I try to talk to them before and after
class so they know that I know who they are. When we are not in class,
I use Blackboard (or email or whatever other classroom management
software a school might use) to communicate with them as a group
regularly (about once or twice a week)—most of these messages are
automated and posted by the system so I don't actually have to think
about communicating with them much at all. This helps me appear
completely invested and interested in my class at all times—between
the classroom and the internet, I am omnipresent, almost scarily so.
But I have my own poems to write, my own art to make, so when they are
not around, they are the last thing I want to think about. Outside of
the classroom or conference, I am not thinking about them at all with
the exception of grading time. This might sound like I am shirking my
job as a teacher, but I maintain that the illusion of investment, the
illusion of constant presence, is as effective as real personal
investment in most cases. Remember that many of their other profs (as
first-year students) won't even know their names, so real 100%
investment is not a prerequisite to learning.
Yes, there are always a few students that I cannot help but investing
in, but that's okay—I'll spend my time with them because they are
probably stellar students who I like to work with. Honestly, in FYC,
most of those students are not invested, anyways, and won't be no
matter what you do. The illusion that I am thinking about them at all
hours makes a big difference in that they feel like they are getting
more attention than I am really giving them, which sometimes spurs
them on to do better work than they might do otherwise.
(3) The grading: This is going to take up most of your time, so you
will have to figure out how to negotiate the volume of essays you will
have to read and comment on during the term. I say ten minutes for a
draft is a good goal. Less if you can, fifteen minutes if you
absolutely must. If you have three or four sections of comp, getting
through the papers quickly will be key to surviving. You'll likely
find that, for the most part, you will be giving the same advice over
and over and over.
Me: I don't comment on first drafts, that's what peer review is for;
moreover, they can't expect other professors to automatically give
them extensive feedback on first drafts, so I'm avoiding creating a
false classroom model. I do, however, go through and glance at each
paper to make sure that everyone is on the right track, and from
experience, I know what common errors are made on the assignments I
give, so I give them a list of things for them to examine in their own
papers. Then they revise after peer-review for me.
On the second draft, I write each one of them an individual letter
that I staple to their second drafts. But remember: I am maintaining
the illusion of investment—I have a word file for each assignment I
give that contains pre-written paragraphs about thesis development,
structure, paragraphs, common assignment blunders, and things like
that. The letters I write to them are largely cut and pasted from this
document with about one short paragraph (I'm talking two or three
sentences) about the intent and content of the paper. This helps me
manage my time so instead of writing the same "your thesis sucks"
comment by hand 80 times, it takes me about two minutes to assemble a
letter giving them some extensive guidance on what they need to work
on. This also helps me to maintain a concrete rubric for evaluating
their work so that I can keep straight where everyone is. I know some
people create charts and give students ratings between 1 and 10 or
whatever, but the cut and pasted letter helps me maintain the illusion
of investment. They get a letter from me that is personalized to the
problems and successes in their drafts without my having to spend too
much time thinking about what I'm going to write or how to say things.
Then they revise for the final grade based off my letter and any
conferencing we do.
This is how I manage the up to 80+ FYC papers (plus 160+ portfolios I
read at the end of the term with our portfolio grading system) that I
can get at any one time. I get them done in one week, no matter what,
because as soon as I am done, I can go back to writing poems. It's a
bit of work to set up the document with comments for excellent, good,
fair, poor, and failing comments for all the areas you want to cover,
but it it's worth it when you are done.
(4) Plan your course as a course and not a class. That is, plan your
course in a way that you can take students through it over and over
and over again with minimal additional class prep and minimal change
to the writing assignments. The first year, you will be doing tons of
class prep—no way around that, really. If you plan it right, however,
you will have considerably less class prep after that. Remember that
every hour you spend doing class prep is an hour you could be writing.
Later, if you find yourself getting bored with your lesson plans, I
maintain that you are spending too much time thinking about comp when
you should be writing—get over it and write a poem. If the assignment
is effective in reaching the course goals, creating a brand new one
will be detrimental to your writing life and possibly to the students'
classroom experience—a new assignment does not guarantee success.
Of course, tweak things to make things easier or more efficient, and
if it helps, create your assignments modularly, so different readings
can be dropped in easily with the same goals for the paper, and
without creating any new prep for you. The way I run FYC, I get two
weeks at a time with no grading and very little class prep (I get to
write) and then one week of sheer hell as I grade my face off with no
time to write anything.
(5) Try to create classroom activities that require minimal feedback
from you. This is more time management. An in-class writing activity
might be cool, but it's also something that you have to respond
to—students get cranky when they do work without getting commentary or
feedback. It comes across as busy-work. Create activities that allow
for time to self-evaluate or peer-evaluate if you must. Honestly, I
know a ton of writing prompts for in-class work, but the last thing I
want to do is read any of it unless someone is making me. I have poems
(6) Beware student emails—they will suck you in. If you answer every
email the moment you get it, you will be constantly answering emails.
I answer student emails once (sometimes twice) a day, no more. I
always get back to them within 24 hours (I promise them this at the
beginning of the term), sometimes 36 or a bit longer on weekends.
I'm stopping there. I could go on and on, but these are some of the
main things I would tell those of you who are about to teach comp for
the first time. Overall, I say that you have to remember that it's a
job and you should treat it like a job in terms of striving to be the
best teacher you can be, but also in terms of not over-investing to
the point that your writing life suffers.