Things I learned about teaching while I haven’t been teaching

Thursday, April 26th, 2012 by Rachel

Until this January, I taught every semester for the past four and a half years. That’s nine semesters in a row. Nine semesters when I was responsible for one to three classes, constructing syllabi, planning lessons, checking homework, taking attendance, holding office hours, holding student conferences, grading four to eight papers, helping students channel their inner creative writers, orchestrating mini-workshops, etc.


This semester (yes, I still think of my time in terms of semesters), I have been focused on perfecting my performance as a Real Housewife of Hendersonville. The house is clean. My flower pots are thriving. Our pantry is stocked. I make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day when I pack my husband’s lunch. Dinner is almost always on the table when I hear my husband click his garage door opener. I have hosted one party and several overnight guests. I go to bed early, and I’m up early. It’s a good life.


There are constant reminders everywhere that I am not teaching. The 90% of my friends who are still teaching. The TV. The Little Red Riding Hood centerpiece on my desk (a student gift). The books downstairs I’m not teaching out of anymore. I think about it a lot.


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Prison Writing

Thursday, September 15th, 2011 by Rachel

The following is taken from an email that I just sent to my grandmother in Arizona. About a month ago, she mailed me Crossing the Yard: Thirty Years as a Prison Volunteer by Richard Shelton. I enjoyed this book and definitely think it’s worth reading.


I’ve been familiar with prison writing for some time now, but this book brought me an extensive glance into the prison world. I had some colleagues at NAU who taught classes at the local prison. Here at Georgia College, as part of our Arts & Letters journal staff, I read submissions and I received several from inmates in prison. Though I’ve heard several of my colleagues make offhand remarks about the writing and I never received anything that I deemed worthy of passing up to the Poetry editor, I always made sure to return the original poems (usually handwritten on notebook paper) in the included self-addressed stamp envelope along with the rejection notification. It broke my heart that people would send off their only copy of poems. I’m sure many prisoners don’t receive their work back.


I tried to enroll in the PEN Mentoring Program, serving as an anonymous mentor who corresponds with a prisoner through mail, but they have “enough” volunteers for 2011, and they “may” need more help in 2012. I don’t see how you can ever have too many volunteers, when it seems as though there are many, many prisoners out there who want to write and have others see/critique their writing, but for some reason they’ve got a cap on it.


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Two weeks in…

Monday, August 30th, 2010 by Rachel

and I’m exhausted. I’ve never looked forward to Labor Day weekend so much. I’m thinking it’s the way my teaching load is distributed. For example, at NAU, I taught Eng. 105 four days a week. Last year, I taught Engl. 1101 three days a week. Now, I’m teaching Eng. 1101 two days a week. You would think—hey, that’s less work right? Not when my schedule is weighted so heavily Tuesday through Thursday. (I have a class on Wednesday, plus Wednesdays are “meeting days”). Hopefully, I’ll adjust by the time I get my first student papers to grade.


So, I’m halfway through my MFA! It’s amazing and exciting, but just thinking about it makes me a teeny bit nauseous. I don’t know where we’ll be heading after that. More info is forthcoming… I hope. It’s time to contact all my Interfolio people and see if my recommendations hold up for jobs. I’ll be observed next week, so I can get my big teaching letter. I need to ask a few more people here for recommendations too. My goal would be to be done with all that before Nov. 1st, which is when most schools begin taking job applications. As I’m very happy with a composition job and/or intro. to creative writing job and I’m coming out of here with four years teaching experience, I hope I’ll be pretty marketable. I still might apply to two PhD programs to cast a wider net, but I’m not sure.


This semester, I’m taking Teaching Creative Writing (I’ll be teaching Intro. to Creative Writing in the spring!), thesis hours, and Poetry with Poet-in-Residence Alice Friman. This poetry class doesn’t have traditional workshops. We basically meet one on one with Alice every week, and our class meets officially three times during the semester. For two of these meetings, we’ll need to have prepared a 10-12 minute reading of one of our favorite poets, and we need to have memorized one of these poems. Of course, you loyal readers know how much I struggle with the memorization, so I’ve already started on my first poem.


Just to give you a quick glimpse of what I have due this week: 2 poems, one 10 page book review, read two chapters of Creative Writing book, need to have marked up 45 “diagnostic” writing samples for students, need to fill out application to graduate and pay 45 bucks to Registar, schedule a library fieldtrip for students, keep working on memorizing aforementioned poem, eat healthy food, figure out my exercise regimen for the semester, do laundry, do dishes, hang out with Derrick, purchase/write cards for Grandparents day, sleep. I also might start getting Arts and Letters submissions that need to be looked over/accepted/rejected this week. And…I’m getting married in less than seven months, so calculate in all that wedding planning stuff that I’m doing now so next January and February aren’t terrible. This is why I am tired.

Finishing my first year of MFA

Friday, May 7th, 2010 by Rachel

For all intents and purposes, I’ve finished my first year of my MFA work here at Georgia College. I still need to officially post student grades, but grading is done! This has been one of my easiest semesters to wrap up, primarily because students turned in their big research papers on April 19th instead of during the last week of school or today during their final the way I’ve required in the past. I think I might try to reconfigure the fall semester so it works the same way. Anything that I can do to make my life a little bit easier is a syllabus adjustment worth making.


Can you believe it? I’m HALF WAY THROUGH MY MFA!!! It’s pretty crazy saying that outloud.


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Worrying, Schooling, and Teaching

Thursday, January 21st, 2010 by Rachel

I thought and thought about making a top 10 of my first semester countlist, but it just didn’t seem right. I’ll give a list in May, when I’m officially halfway through the program.


Just like after my first semester at NAU’s MA, I’m now in a state of crisis. What am I going to do with my life? What is meant for me post-MFA? Do I really want to work on a PhD? Do I really want to go through the stress of another application season? Is being in school something I want to do for another 3-6 years? If I do plan on starting the PhD application process, I’ll have to have solidified my school list by August or September, so I can start asking for recommendations and start the rigorous application process. Since I took the GREs in fall of 06, this is the last application season I could recycle those scores without REALLY pushing the five year rule. I never want to have to retake them.


Part of what plays into a lot of this worrying is Derrick. Derrick and I will have been together for five years in April. As those of you with spouses, domestic partners, children, and pets know, it’s a lot harder to move a family than move just one person. You DO have to think about what’s best for everybody. Times are tough all over, and his job in Flagstaff at the newspaper definitely was NOT stable towards the end. Flagstaff would have never provided enough of an opportunity in terms of providing me (with only a MA) work either. Unfortunately, Derrick hasn’t been able to find a job since moving to Milledgeville, regardless of sending out tons and tons of applications and resumes. It does make things hard, as much as we do enjoy living here in a little yellow house.


Milledgeville doesn’t offer us any long term possibilities. We will have to move once I graduate. We’ve talked about moving somewhere specifically for Derrick, since I can really teach anywhere, especially with the qualifications of a MA and MFA, but I really worry that eventually I won’t be able to provide as much WITHOUT a PhD.


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I can’t remember if I’ve posted this before…

Thursday, January 14th, 2010 by Rachel

but I’m taking it to class tomorrow… I wanted to show a favorite poem to my students… I wanted to show them a poem that is easy to read, tells a story, and makes me happy all around and decided on this one.


The Rural Carrier Discovers
That Love Is Everywhere


-by T.R. Hummer


A registered letter for the Jensens. I walk down their drive
Through the gate of their thick-hedged yard, and by God there they are,
On a blanket in the grass, asleep, buck-naked, honeymooners
Not married a month. I smile, turn to leave,
But can’t help looking back. Lord, they’re a pretty sight,
Both of them, tangled up in each other, easy in their skin-
It’s their own front yard, after all, perfectly closed in
By privet hedge and country. Maybe they were here all night.


I want to believe they’d do that, not thinking of me
Or anyone but themselves, alone in the world
Of the yard with its clipped grass and fresh-picked fruit trees.
Whatever this letter says can wait. To hell with the mail.
I slip through the gate, silent as I came, and leave them
Alone. There’s no one they need to hear from.

Shocking my students…

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009 by Rachel



My students had summer reading: Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi. I read the book the other week, as I was lucky enough to have a setup small classroom “conversation” with Saadawi during orientation. This isn’t a book that I would say I necessarily enjoyed. At 114 pages, I finished it easily in a few hours. The writing is okay, though repetitive and perhaps overly dramatic at points. The storyline is simple: Saadawi interviews Firdaus, a prostitute sentenced to death for murdering her pimp. Saadawi’s “interview”/commentary serves as bookends to Firdaus’s story, which is told from Firdaus’s perspective in first person.


Saadawi says that she considers this book to be more of a history than a novel. When asked why she thought this was an important convocation text for freshmen to read, she responded with two answers. 1) There is Firdaus in every woman. 2) Prostitution is at the heart of patriarchy and capitalism. I enjoyed the book more than I enjoyed hearing Saadawi’s political views. In particular, I didn’t appreciate her stance that we (as Americans) shouldn’t provide aid in any situation to any foreign countries. I’m a firm believer that if people are in trouble, we should help, regardless of if they decide to use our help (ala AIDS medicines not making its way to the people who actually need it in Africa). But I’m off on a tangent, and that’s an issue that deserves more attention than I can give it at this point.


This is a book about prostitution, abuse, molestation/rape, and the hardships of being a woman in Egypt. This is not a book that I would have ever chosen to be the first thing that my students see, though I do see some reason behind its selection. Today was the first day we discussed the book. What I didn’t expect/anticipate was having to switch gears and turn into “sex-ed” for a minute.


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First Week Reflections

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009 by Rachel

1) Teaching in the morning is much different than teaching around lunchtime or in the afternoon. My 9 o’clock students still seem sleepy. My 10 o’clock students have woken up. Maybe their energy will fade as the semester continues. I am not a morning person.


2) Freshmen are idealistic and delusional. I don’t want to kill their idealism or delusions, but I do worry about them. For example, yesterday I found out that there is a program where guys drive around in golf carts and pick up girls who are walking by themselves on campus. Don’t these poor cute Southern sorority girls realize that they can’t trust the guys in golf carts either?


3) I have to memorize two poems this semester. I’m going to try to complete one by mid-October and one by the end of the semester. The last class I memorized a poem for was a completely horrible fever-inducing mess. I worked SO hard on memorizing this awful little eight line poem as requested by my instructor. I showed up on the day assigned, ready to recite, and I was the only person in class who completed the assignment. I recited it okay, with a few messups, and the instructor said we’d come back to it next week when everyone else could recite it. We never came back to it.


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There are too many numbers here.


Or, GCSU vs. NAU orientation/teaching

Friday, August 14th, 2009 by Rachel

GCSU’s teaching orientation was much different than NAUs. For one thing, when I arrived at NAU, there were 40 Eng. 105 instructors. Here—13. Just the size of the programs alone leads to different handling of a lot of the administrative kind of stuff. I don’t even have a copy limit (not that I ever ran out of copies anyway), and I was simply asked to use copies in moderation.


Some of you remember the crazy two weeks of NAU orientation. Here, orientation was squeezed into three days, two of which were half days.


I’m glad that I already have two years of teaching under my belt. Eng. 105 was a four hour course with a ridiculous workload for students (and me to grade!), but I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to teach such a variety of essays during my time at NAU, as the requirements here at GCSU are much less strict and I have a LOT of freedom. I’ve basically developed my syllabus on my own, minus a skeleton/recommended readings/etc. We aren’t even all using the same textbook. After the first year, teaching fellows can choose whatever they want! Super weird.


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