Take 20 and Call Me (a Jackass) in the Morning

Until I can gather my thoughts for a proper post, enjoy my response for this aggravating survey that I had to complete for one of my teaching gigs.  I tried to tone down the sarcasm, but I found the asinine questions and the cheesy accompanying video dull gruel indeed.

The questions from Take 20

1. What do you remember about your first time teaching?
I was nervous beyond words—literally. My first class finished after a ten minute read- through of the syllabus. Afterward, I called my mom and told her that I never wanted to teach again.

2. What are the aims of your writing courses (beyond those stated in the course description)?
My aim is to get students to see the connection between clear writing and clear thinking.

3. What is the biggest surprise about teaching writing?
My biggest surprise: students either rashly assume they can write, even though most of their writing is done via text messaging, or they view writing as an esoteric art form. Both lead to trouble.

4. How do you organize your course syllabus?
I try to organize it in such a way so that each topic builds upon the one that has preceded it.

5. What is the one thing that every writing teacher should know?
The one thing: do not ever hope for the _Dead Poets Society_ moment. Be content with proper comma usage.

6. How do you design a lesson plan?
Lesson plans are based upon a combination of two things: 1). what students need to know and 2). what they, in fact, do not know.

7. If you had to pick only one book for a writing teacher to read, what would it be?
How about three?
#1: Strunk and White’s _The Elements of Style_.
#3: Sister Miriam Joseph’s _The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric_.
#2: Fowler’s _Modern English Usage_.

8. How do you create a writing assignment?
I aim to match the writing assignments to the particular rhetorical pattern or project then being discussed.

9. If you had to pick only one essay for a writing teacher to read, what would it be?
I really do not know. More than likely, though, I would have such a person pick up Flannery O’Connor’s _Mystery and Manners_, close his/her eyes, put his/her finger anywhere in the book, and then start reading.

10. How do you determine course content?
I, for the most part, do not. I use the textbook assigned by the teaching institution. Of course, when I deem it necessary, I complement the content with lecture notes and on-line videos and readings.

11. Who influenced your work the most?
Personal: My philosophy professor at Belhaven College (now University)–Dr. Kenyon.
Impersonal: Walker Percy.

12. How do you orchestrate peer groups?
For the most part, I do not. Until students learn how to write correctly, they do not need to infect their classmates with muddled ideas. At most, I may give peer review exercises.

13. If you had to select only one scholar for a writing teacher to read, who would it be?

14. How do you address product and process?
As archaic as it sounds, I want my students to aim for correctness—the standard of grammar—and not self-expression. Thus, I want students to see correctness as the end product. However, whatever process they use to get to that point is fine with me. Generally, though, I would argue that self-expression/exploration can and should come only after they have first discovered the basic principles of logic, grammar, and rhetoric.

15. What do you wish you had been taught in grad school (but were not)?
#1: Do not take out students loans.
#2: You really cannot teach to the middle–you only alienate most of the class. Challenge the students, but be ready to face the fact that a good number of students will never pass your course.

16. How do you respond to student writing?
I try to respond as professionally and as thoroughly as possible.

17. What have you learned from your students?
A little goes a long way.

18. How has technology shaped your teaching?
How has technology not shaped teaching? Neo-Luddites are one of the few groups against whom one can still discriminate. This being said: on-line sources such as videos and the Owl at Purdue site have been a great help. Students seem to respond pretty well to PowerPoint presentations as well.

19. What’s next for writing teachers?
Given the state’s budget, probably a cut in pay. Apart from this: multiple challenges stemming from an increase in ESL students and a growing population of functionally-illiterate native English speakers. Quite frankly, things have never looked worse for writing teachers.

20. How do you approach difference?
At this point, difference in ability concerns me more than difference in culture/ethnicity.

21. Observations about the film:
Good writers often make for questionable speakers.

About Bourbon Apocalypse: A Whiskey Son of Sorrow

"If you can't annoy somebody, there's little point in writing." ~ Kingsley Amis
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1 Response to Take 20 and Call Me (a Jackass) in the Morning

  1. Monster says:

    I wish you could post the film, but I know that is probably not advisable. #5 made my night. I think of it much like the popular internet adage ” Disney gave me unrealistic expectations about hair and boys.”

    “Dead Poet’s Society gave me unrealistic expectations about English literature and teaching.”

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