English 600 Reflection

Thanks to everyone in English 600 and the MATW program for their friendship, kind words, and support this semester.

l look forward to learning from and working with you over the course of the next few semesters and beyond.

I spent the past year counting down the days to graduate school and would babble incessantly to anyone that showed the least bit of interest in hearing why. I had romanticized visions of spending rainy afternoons in the library reading and writing about composition and radical pedagogy and strategizing a master plan for my eventual return to the classroom. I had no problem tossing aside the comfortable life I had built for myself in Oakland, for I was excited at the prospect of being a student again. I had positive experiences as an undergraduate and looked forward to the two years of learning that were ahead of me. Somehow though things have gone terribly wrong. All of a sudden education has become a loathsome chore. It doesn’t speak to me like it did before. I’m not excited. I’m full of anxiety. I’m not motivated. I’m frustrated. It has been a trying semester.

I always knew that I would eventually have to earn a graduate degree, but I never envisioned myself taking time off from the classroom to pursue the next level of my education. I simply assumed that I would continue to work and earn a degree locally in the Bay Area while teaching at Richmond High School. As I contemplated my various graduate school options, I briefly considered the counseling and administration tracks as ways to make myself a more productive and effective educator. However, I realized that pursuing either of these options would take me out of the classroom and into a world of bureaucracy- complete with an overload of paperwork, long tortuous meetings, and limited contact time with students. I would much rather wake early to the sounds of the passing train, make my lunch, grab my coffee, roll up my shirtsleeves, and get to work in my classroom. I am a teacher. It is my craft, and I take great pride in being able to do it well.

Much of this semester has been dedicated to considering my position within the rhetoric and composition profession. And while I appreciate the opportunity I have to reflect and establish myself within the field, I find myself in a struggle against the discipline’s seeming desire to consume and define me. I am impassioned by my role as a teacher, but it is not my sole identity. I do not want my job security or prospects to be determined by my willingness or refusal to completely immerse myself in the world of rhetoric and composition. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, and there is no reason why I should feel obligated to give them all to the academy. I have found Rob Pope’s The English Studies Book and the various essays that make up Publishing in Rhetoric and Composition to be quite valuable in their ability to address the multitude of issues and complexities within the English discipline, but I am disconcerted with the absurd demands of the profession that seem to make reaching my full potential as an instructor nearly impossible. True, I am attracted by the various discourses of the academy and stirred by the debates within the English discipline, but I do not wish to serve their will in a way that is going to devour and inform my every waking moment. While the rigor of academic thought and conversation is energizing, it is also exhausting in a way that makes me feel incomplete, for it takes from me the asset that I feel is most valuable, my teaching. Of course I realize that being an active participant in conversations relevant to my academic field of interest is a necessary part of being a responsible and informed professional, but I feel there is not enough dialogue being dedicated to the issues actual classroom writing instruction.  I am not interested in trying to legitimize rhetoric and composition’s place in the academy while the needs of its students in the classroom are not being met.

So, where does all of this position me? It positions me firmly in the classroom as a writing instructor. As much as I would like for that opportunity to be at the community college level, in all honesty it will likely be back at in high school, a place where my time will be more valued as an instructor, and I will not have to worry myself with the demands of publication. There is no doubt in my mind that the pressure to publish would have an adverse effect on my ability to be an effective teacher and would do the students a great disservice. This does not mean I am completely against the prospects of publishing or wish to close myself off from the rest of my peers.  If I am struck with the desire to write about the composition classroom, I will certainly do so. Actually, I can envision myself working with others, such as the Bay Area Writing Project, and being involved with workshops that provide guidance and assistance to other teachers. I realize I run the risk of sounding too uncompromising and stubborn, but these are going to be moments that are going to be decided on my terms. And it’s not just the idea of publishing that is influencing my thoughts here. It’s the whole political rigmarole that seems to be mixed up with the community college scene. I thought that teaching at the junior college leveI would mean entering an environment that would allow more freedom. Instead I’m faced with the prospects of plagiarism prevention websites and more prescriptive curriculum. The idea of spending years in the part-time pool as a freeway flyer before even having a crack at a permanent position isn’t exactly appealing. I thrive on structure and expectations and do not have to ability to answer to various sources of authority. No, Professor Stacey, you need not worry that my doomsday outlook was something that your course brought upon me. They are realities that have been on my mind for some time. It has simply been the opportunity to break from teaching in order to think and investigate my suspicions that has allowed them to manifest here in my writing.

In an attempt to try and shed some positive light on this semester, I will admit that I have been exposed to some classroom strategies that I will certainly make a part of my own teaching. The use of Moodle forums in particular has been impressive in a way that I did not expect. I’ve had to take online courses in the past to fulfill professional development requirements, but most of those were generic and displeasing in their organization. I found that the forum discussions, especially in this class, were a great way to build deep and well-thought conversations with my peers in a way that many in-class discussions cannot. They not only allowed me to better formulate my thoughts and insights but also made me “listen” more closely to what my classmates were saying. Often times in a classroom conversation I end up spending most of my time putting together my spoken contribution and end up missing out on some important commentaries being made by others. The forums also eliminate the moments of “Oh, I should have said that in class today!” that usually strike 45 minutes after the class is done. Because the response time is longer in the forum discussions, I found my comments and thoughts to be much more focused and relevant than those I have to make in the spur of the moment. I think there is much to be said about the tight bond the first year MATW students have formed since August, and I would like to think that the forums have played a hand in our coming together.  I do not think that Moodle should replace classroom discussion, but it is certainly valuable to conversations that require some depth and reflection. The benefits of this type of discussion would be many for a first year composition class. It allows for the building of community, provides an outlet for meaningful writing, and involves students who may not participate verbally in class. It is a communication strategy with which there is already student familiarity, thanks to their exposure to blogs, message boards, chatrooms, and social networking sites.

As I mentioned before, structure is a necessity in my life. Consequently, there have been moments in all of my courses this semester in which I struggled and have been overcome with anxiety resulting from assignments that were less structured that I would have liked. English 600 is no exception, but I have found it this class’s open-ended assignments meeting positive ends. Back in October when I first heard the instructions for the ecocritical group discussion, I felt a bit intimidated and overwhelmed by the task we had been given. Even at the end the first ecocritical group meeting I still felt unsure of our direction and goal. However, by the time we had to pull our ideas together we had organized a plan and held a valuable discussion on the topic. I suspect the lack of definition given to the assignment was a purposeful move on Professor Stacey’s part. (He did mention a couple of class sessions later that he was intrigued with the practice of improvisation in the classroom.) The open-endedness of this web page assignment has proven to be quite motivating, as it has not only has added an element of creativity for which I can dictate the structure, it has allowed me to combine my love for music with writing. Stacey’s use of the website project as an assessment tool is a concept that will follow me to my own classroom as a sort of online portfolio through which students can publish class and personal writings. If it is internally persuasive to me as a student, I do not see why it would not work the same way with others. It is an approach that promotes social learning, speaks to student interests, immerses students in a large conversation, and retains the kind of academic rigor that students need.

As I head towards my second semester in the MATW program, I hope to gain a more positive perspective and rediscover the kind of excitement that landed me here in the first place.  Perhaps a couple of weeks of respite will do me some good. I’ll visit Richmond High and remind myself why I do it all. I’ll buy some records and catch up on my reading list. Maybe I should pick up some full spectrum light bulbs in an effort to fend off dark days ahead.

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