Sunday, March 28th 2004

posted @ 8:26 am in [ ]
Once again, I’m working a pile of jobs: TA’ing for the distance learning course, teaching writing at DeVry, working at the dance studio, and the bike shop, and the occasional freelance research project. My current plan for somehow writing a book while doing all this is to get up reeeeally early and try to get it done before I start my day.

What’s on my mind the most, though, is the DeVry class. I used to think I had been spoiled by my teaching experiences. My first teaching job was teaching English to European high school students. They were mature, well behaved, abnormally respectful, and rather delightful. More recently, I taught graduate students. They were good writers for the most part, and all smart and hardworking, making my job pretty easy and pleasant. The distance learning course, flagship that it is, is a plumb assignment to be sure.

While I’ve listened to my colleagues talk about their teaching experiences, I’ve thought that I had just gotten lucky in my assignments. They would tell me about students they had who didn’t care, or were lousy writers, or weren’t very talented, or were just sort of refusing to learn, or whatever. They dreaded going to teach class. I thought about how I looked forward to going into the classroom every time, that it was always sort of a highlight of my week, and how my students were engaged and for the most part, trying their best. I thought about how my students always surprise and delight me, and I hoped my friends would have better luck. I hoped they would have the kind of great luck I had had.

Now I’m finally teaching a course that isn’t advanced, or a flagship, or European, or particularly special in any way. It’s a core curriculum writing course at a school focused on practical technical skills, and the students are regular college-aged folks from regular American backgrounds, many of them farm kids. Yet, the students are still amazing me. They work so hard and with all they have. They are making such incredible speedy progress from being capable of putting an essay together to developing their own voices and really becoming *writers*, I can’t believe it. Even the students who didn’t consider themselves creative before have, after three weeks, begun creating work with glimmers of terrific images and clever storytelling. It’s like magic.

I am especially knocked out by the students’ dedication. From their journal work (there is a weekly journal requirement, plus an additional assignment–these students are cranking out several pages a week. Hey, I’m fun but I’m not easy), I’m aware that most of them are working in addition to their full courseloads, many of them at night jobs. It’s stressful for them–I can sure relate to that–but they’re a lot younger than I am and they already have this stuff on their shoulders. Not only are they somehow finding time to write, they’re finding time to write really impressive stuff that shows progress on every single assignment. On top of that, several of them have been or have begun writing their own stuff on the side, so I’m getting to read that stuff, too. A lot of these students are going to produce publishable-quality stuff by the end of the term if this keeps up–more than half, anyway. I’m so proud of them, I can’t imagine how I’d express it in a way that wouldn’t embarrass them. If I could give them only one thing for this experience, I hope it’s a creative outlet that can help them manage all that stress and remind them they’re good at stuff.

One of the great benefits to me is that in teaching writing, it puts writing on my mind. It makes me think about my technique and process. It helps me focus on my dissertation and getting down to business. When I tell them that they can do this, I remind myself that I can do it. In teaching anything, you find out how much you really know about it. It’s a cliche that teaching is really a learning experience, but it’s hard to capture that feeling of surprise and delight you get when you feel like you’re introducing students to something they will enjoy and use, and somehow, you feel like you’re still the one benefitting from it.

So I guess I’ve gotten lucky again. Either I love teaching so much that I stand a pretty good chance of having a good experience most of the time, or I am chronically lucky with my classes. Either way, I figure I can expect to continue having a great time.

Thursday, March 18th 2004

Brief birthday update:
posted @ 4:28 pm in [ - ]
1. Got wrecked on the drynx and snax plan, never did make it out to hit the town. My friend Jeani makes the best margaritas ever, and she is extremely generous with them.

2. Attempted film festival, but it was probably a little too short notice, so it was sparsely attended. Not that THAT affects whether or not I had a good time, and let’s face it, that’s the index of whether or not an event I attended was a success. It was. The de facto theme ended up being Jackie Chan movies, of which we own several.

3. On The Day Of, I had cake for breakfast, gave the final exam, went to the Botanic Gardens afterward, then teatime at St. Mark’s (a great little coffee shop at 17th and Race), and then I made my way over to Le Central, my favorite local restaurant. The bus I got on to take me the last leg of that particular journey also carried Phillip, which was a delightful (unplanned) surprise. We had a great meal courtesy of my mother, then retired to Pints Pub, where we met up with several of my friends for scotch and heated socialist debate.

4. The following Saturday was Cheap Fun Day, featuring museums and good cheap eats. Phillip wasn’t working on the Saturday after my birthday for the first time in years, so he was able to join in the Cheap Fun, which was in itself a treat. We also got the Megmobile back the day before as an added bonus. The Museum of Science and Nature had an exhibit on loan from the Yale Peabody Museum (where I spent many a delighted hour as a kid and from which I somewhere have souvenirs including a dessicated blowfish) about Machu Picchu. We also saw the Imax film, “Coral Reef,” which was a bit preachy but otherwise quite spectacular. This was especially satisfying to me, because as many of you know, the Incas were a favorite topic of mine while I was working on my master’s degree; and I will always stop channel flipping to watch an underwater show.

So all in all, a good annual 29th.

Tuesday, March 2nd 2004

posted @ 9:49 pm in [ ]
So a week from today, I’m turning 33, otherwise known as my 5th Annual 29th Birthday. I like to make a big deal out of birthdays. I know when Millard Fillmore’s birthday is, as well as the birthday of gerrymandering, although I suppose that’s more of an anniversary. Usually, by this time, I Have A Plan. The last few years, I’ve had a day of cheap fun planned (art museum on free day, miniature golf, tea and treats, that kind of thing). I submit an itinerary to my local friends and they just show up where they can–it’s like a surprise party at every stop. This year, though, I’ve had a really stupid February in so many ways that I am just not my usual organized self.

So I’m trying to come up with good, cheap, fun ideas. Cheap fun day this weekend? Next weekend? Both? Getting wrecked in between? Going out dancing or something? Video film festival? My agenda includes cake and ice cream, but also scotch and cigars. On the day itself, I have to give a final exam, so I won’t have the WHOLE day, but I will have all the rest of it. I plan to go to the Botanic Gardens in the morning. I started doing that a few years ago and it’s a cool birthday contemplation thing that I really enjoy. I’d like to have afternoon tea. I’d like to have a nice dinner, but I don’t care if it’s at an actual restaurant or not. Also, I get wrecked maybe once or twice a year, and my birthday is a good occasion for that, so somewhere in here, that might be nice, too. Plus, that’s some cheap fun right there: I can get pretty wrecked on a mere $10 - 15, and I am highly entertaining liquored up by all accounts.

Mostly, there are a couple dozen folks I’d like to spend time with if I can–that’s sort of more important to me even than doing specific stuff. So far, I’ve had the following suggestions: 1. Yes, let’s get wrecked, preferrably this weekend. 2. Come over to my place and we’ll have a few drinks and snax and then hit the town. 3. Cheap fun day both this weekend AND next weekend, and get wrecked in between. I’ve vowed to do the 3 best ideas I get by tomorrow night.