Back to school

My how time flies. It seems like only yesterday I was starting summer break, and here we are now, already two (kind of) weeks of fall classes in the history books.

First, a few housekeeping-type things. I’m still working on updates to the new site design, so there may be some changes over the coming weeks/months or (heaven forbid…) some errors and/or bugs. Also, yikes. I missed three weekly writing tips. First because of prep work, then because classes had started and oh my goodness where was all my free time, and then because I had the migraine/tension headache from hell that left me in bed for 56 hours. I won’t go into the gory details, but it was one of the worst experiences of my life. I’m all better now though! Well, mostly. Food and I are still having a bit of a complicated relationship.

By the way, I’m fully aware that two of those things are excuses for not getting my work done, while only one is a reason.

Okay, back to business! Classes started last Wednesday at MSU, which was treated like a Monday, which didn’t matter one bit to me, since my Monday and Wednesday schedule is exactly the same. Apparently for students who have recitations or one-day-a-week classes, though, this is an important distinction. I’m teaching three classes this semester (that’s full time for me), one of which is a totally new class that I spent the summer (and part of the spring) designing, while the other two are repeats for me. Sort of. I wanted to take some time today to introduce you to some of the work I’m doing in those classes, since I’m sure I’ll be talking about them much more at length in the coming weeks.

First-year Writing, Studio Model

The two repeat sections for me are studio-like models of our first-year writing course at MSU. I teach my sections focused on professional literacies, and really try to give the students a lot of hands-on experience and personalized attention. The students spend almost two months of the semester in groups of around six, working on a project for an on-campus clients. They research and analyze both their client and their audience, use their findings to create a piece of publicity for the client, then write a paper arguing why their proposed publicity material is effective and appropriate. During the course, the students learn how to write professional email, how to write resumes and cover letters, how to design a meeting agenda (and run a meeting), how to conduct interviews, how to talk about their professional experiences through narrative, how to work effectively in groups, etc. The goal is for as much of the class as possible to transfer in immediate and obvious ways. I’m teaching one of my sections as a joint section with another professor (so twice the number of students, but twice the number of professors, too), and I’m teaching the other section in a REAL classroom. (Note to self: you need to add code to change the color of links in text.)

Managing Publication Projects, ing Magazine

My brand new class, which is part of the Professional Writing major at MSU, is a section on producing a monthly magazine. We’ve recently begun to focus on moving the students toward experiences in the classroom, and this is one of the ways we’re hoping to accomplish that. The students in my class will work together to curate, write, edit, and design the content for ing, an on-campus arts and culture publication. They will also work to create an institutional memory for the publication, and will research the on-campus audience as well as other similar publications to get a feel for how we can be most effective. Our big projects this semester, in addition to producing the October, November, and December/January issues of the magazine, are a history report, a landscape analysis, an audience analysis, and a distribution report. Like my first-year writing classes, this one also stresses teamwork in many aspects and seeks to show students the ways in which group work is essential in professional editing and publishing spheres.

And that’s it! Or, well, that’s it on paper. In reality, there’s a lot more going on than two short paragraphs of text can really get at, and it’s those as-of-yet untapped spaces that I’ll be exploring more throughout this semester. It should be fun!

back to school shopping

back to school supplies

It’s not much, but it still makes me happy.

We’re less than a month away from the first day of classes at Michigan State, which means I’ve finally had to stop pretending this summer will last forever and start designing syllabi, setting schedules, and planning lessons. I actually find this work enjoyable most of the time, even if I’d rather not be thinking about it quite yet. (Seriously. Didn’t spring semester end approximately two weeks ago?) But my favorite thing about this time of year: I get to buy school supplies.

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for office and desk supplies, and when I was a kid, I loved back to school shopping (but I was also one of those weird kids who got excited for the first day of school, so maybe I’m not completely normal). I loved picking out notebooks and pencils and binders and highlighters. I liked pulling the backing off a pack of pens and lying them out on the table to decide which ones would go to school with me and which would stay home on my desk. I loved color coordinating my notebooks, binders, and folders. My parents tolerated my exuberance, and maybe even encouraged it, by continuing to let me buy new things each year, even after I acquired a large supply of automatic pencil lead and notebooks with only a few used pages. (As an aside, this accumulation came in handy when I was in college.)

Back to school shopping is different for me these days, of course. Unlike K through 12 teachers, I don’t have a classroom to stock or decorate, and my students bring most of what they need. I do have my own office, which is far from common in the world of non-tenure-track faculty, but I don’t keep much stuff there. I do most of my grading at home and on the computer. Even most of my teaching uses digital tools these days. Still, I acquired a few new things.

multicolored pens
I treat myself to new pens before each new year. My freshmen will probably be getting mostly digital feedback from me this year (thank you Google Drive for adding a track-changes-type feature to the already awesome commenting system), but the students in my editing classes still get a lot of hard-copy feedback. I think robust feedback is an important part of my job as a teacher, and I figure if I’m going to do it, I might as well do it with pretty colors of ink.

correction tape
For three years, every time I’ve needed to white something out I’ve had to walk down to the main office and borrow the stuff there. Now I have my own, and as a writing and editing professor who is still human enough to make the occasional mistake, this comes in handy.

While I don’t often have a use for highlighters, when I want one, nothing else makes a good substitute. Plus, they come in pretty colors.

new binders and divider tabs
Though I keep digital copies of the handouts I make, I also like to keep print copies, and I keep a separate binder for each course I teach. This year I’m teaching a brand new course on magazine production (more on that later!), which meant getting two new binders. One will hold assignments and handouts and live in my office, but the other will come to class every day and serve as our production handbook. I’m going to have the students create style guides, process documents, and instruction manuals, among other things. There will be digital copies of all of this, too, of course, but I’ve always found it helpful to have a print resource as well. We’ll see if the students agree.

stickers (not yet acquired)
I still need to buy some stickers. It may sound odd, but two years ago I randomly put some stickers on a short homework assignment from my 300-level class, and when I didn’t do the same on the next assignment, the students complained. So now I try to always keep stickers on hand. I looked for some at Meijer the other day, but I could only find fancy scrapbooking stickers, so I’m still on the hunt for good (but cheap) packs.

Does anyone else get excited for back to school shopping? And, more importantly, does anyone else use silly things like stickers with their adult students? I’ll admit I’ve never tried anything like that with my first-year students because they seem more likely to find it lame.

With fall comes football and a new job

Michigan State’s season opener was Friday, but more importantly, Friday was my last day working for the Michigan Department of Education. I may take on some very minimal contract work from them in the future (writing stories or test items from the comfort of my home), but I gave my notice, turned in my badge, and left the Hannah building for the last time.

A few weeks before that, you see, I had been hired as an assistant professor at Michigan State University. I now teach two sections of one of the first-year writing courses offered at MSU, and I’m focusing my course on new media literacies.

It’s nothing short of wonderful to once again be part of the MSU community. I have an office in Bessey Hall (the building I spent more time in than any other while I was a student in the professional writing program), a faculty parking pass (which still excites me  beyond reason), and a brand new MSU ID (though I really don’t look like I’ve aged nine years). My colleagues are good, my students are good, and campus is beautiful.

The downside to all of this is that I’m not full time, nor am I eligible for benefits (my contract is only for one semester at the moment; I’ll find out in October if it will be renewed). I also took a slight pay cut. But, at the end of the day, when I come home exhilarated, excited to do some specific lesson planning for the next class, and ready to go back the next day, I know I’m in the right place. I still would love to move to editing some day, but if that day never comes, I have a truly magnificent job and community.

Me, myself, and France

Ever since I spent a few days in Paris last summer, I’ve had this idea bouncing around the back of my head that I need to go back. I know how hard it can be to find good work in France as an American, however, so I really didn’t do much with the idea. I poked into the possibility of getting another advanced degree abroad, but it all seemed like too much money—and very much as if I was just using education as an excuse to travel. But then a few weeks back I stumbled upon the existence of this teaching assistants program in France. The short of it is, every year the French government pays 1500 Americans to teach English in its schools. The pay isn’t phenomenal (just under 800 Euros per month, after taxes and health care costs), but it is enough to live off of. Oh, and did I mention? You only work 12 hours each week.

I missed the deadline for the 2011 program, but I plan on applying for 2012. It would mean starting my contract October 1, 2012, and staying for either seven or nine months, depending on which age level I’m chosen to teach for. My application will be due in January.

In the meantime, I’m doing everything I can think of to prepare. I’m working on my French every day (you need the equivalent of three semesters of college French, which I have, but I’m very rusty), researching the program like crazy, and doing my best to save as much money as possible (when I say the wage is livable, that doesn’t factor in my student loans at all, so I need all that money saved in advance). I also need two recommendation letters, one of which has to address my French skills. This is going to be my biggest stumbling block, I think, seeing as how I don’t know anyone that can honestly speak to that. So I’m looking in to signing up for an evening college class or something.

So this is what I’ve been up to lately. I fluctuate between being incredibly excited and incredibly scared, and I imagine these swings will only get more pronounced. But you have to be under 30 on the day the program starts, so I don’t really have the time to put it off. I’m young and able, and if I don’t do this now, I’m afraid I never will.

Also, as an aside for anyone who is intrigued and now considering doing something similar: Spain, Austria, and I think Italy have similar programs. And Finland has a program where you don’t need any language experience. That’s what I’ve heard, anyway.