Tag Archives: Monroe Community College

Adjunct of the Year & Concern About My Future Career

At the end of May, I was honored by the English/Philosophy Department at Monroe Community College when I was awarded Adjunct of the Year.

I didn’t expect the award to be a big deal — more symbolic than anything — so when I sauntered into the English Department on the designated day and the predetermined time, I was sort of surprised to be greeted by two Adjunct Coordinators and my Department Chair. They had plans.

First, one of the Adjunct Coordinators, Keith Jay, made a little speech about my service to the College.

Honestly, it was like my wedding.

I barely heard him. I saw his mouth moving, but my brain was all: Whaaaat?

Keith handed me a certificate.

Nice, right?

Honestly, the certificate would have been enough!

But then they gave me flowers.

Pretty, right?

And then my Department Chair handed me an envelope with ninety-six bazillion dollars.

Ben looks good in green, right?

Keith asked me to follow him into the hall.

(At that point, I would have followed him anywhere.)

“Your nameplate will eventually be there.” Keith pointed to a hook on an otherwise empty wall. “The plaque is at the engraver’s now.”

I followed Keith back into the English office where he picked up a white glove.

Because I am a dork, I thought: Oh, this is it. This is the part where I get hazed.

I’m not kidding.

I thought I was going to have to clean out the English office, or perhaps the supply closet where everyone goes to get pens and pads of paper and markers and chalk. It can get pretty messy in there, especially around the end of the semester. I seriously thought someone was going to make me pass a “white glove” test.

(What’s wrong with me?)

The other adjunct coordinator, Professor Yulanda McKinney, pushed a black box into my hands.

Nestled inside layers of white silk was a crystal prism.

“Put this on before you pick it up.” Keith said, handing me the glove. “You don’t want to get fingerprints all over it.”

As I lifted the prism out of the box with my gloved hand, I saw it had been engraved with my name on it.

It’s hard to take a picture of a prism!

And I was overwhelmed.

Because I realized no one was going to haze me Yulanda and Keith and Cathy and all the people in my department view me as a colleague.

I may not have my own office or full-time hours, but the people with whom I work respect what I do.

Which is an awesome feeling.

So I was filled with gratitude.

Professor Keith Kay, me (in the white glove) & Professor Yulanda McKinney

Not long after I received this award, I had a dream. I was on a ship with a bunch of my students. I turned around to call to them, but no words came out of my mouth. A voice told me to leave them behind, that they would be okay.

I’ve been struggling with my vocal cords lately.

A lot.

Obviously, the damage is worse.

I keep thinking about that dream.

I don’t know how many semesters I have left in the classroom because some days I just squeak.

Or cough.

It goes without saying that I will, of course, give 100%, but if this September is to be my swan song, 20 & 1/2 years in the classroom will have been a lovely run.

I don’t know what I will do next.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything else.

Especially anything that has required me to be quiet.

Have you ever had to stop doing something that you really love? What made you stop? Were you able to replace that thing with something else? Or do you still miss the activity that you had to drop?

Tweet this Twit @rasjacobson

Ups and Downs & Lessons From the Universe

It’s been one of those weeks!

Were my life a roller coaster ride, I’ve got to tell you, this week has been positively loopy.

And it’s only Thursday.

On Monday, I showed up at my local grocery store, all showered and dressed at 8 am, to discuss catering for my son’s bar mitzvah with a woman named Karen.

Only to learn that my appointment is actually next week at 8 am.

As I stood there, dejected, I received a text from someone telling me that she couldn’t make a coffee date we’d been strenuously trying to set-up.

For months.

Last night, Hubby told me that we cannot have the Friday night dinner before our son’s bar mitzvah at the location we had previously selected.

I cannot even discuss this right now without feeling nauseated.

Because, seriously, where are we going with under 6 weeks left?

Yesterday, I wrote a guest post of which I was particularly proud. Very few people left comments. And that’s okay, except it left me feeling embarrassed and confused. I don’t understand why that content didn’t speak to people. I re-posted it HERE and, for those who may have missed it, I would still be interested in hearing your comments.

Anyway, I was feeling kind of low.

Then I learned it was National Teacher’s Appreciation Week. I had no idea.

One of my former students sent me this comment on my Facebook wall.

So that made me feel better. I mean, I figure if I’m losing my writing mojo, at least my students appreciate me, right?

And speaking of my students, this morning I tried to log onto my email account at Monroe Community College.

But I was locked out.

Because every six months we have to reset our passwords. Pain in the booty.

I’m currently working through Super Heroes combined with a series of uppercase letters and those annoying keys required for extra security. You know: !@#$%^&*()_+.


So I had to change my password which took four attempts plus a call to the Technology Services Help Desk.

Because I’d forgotten I’d already been W0nderw0man08! and Aquaman09% and Superman10# P0isonIvy11? And the computer won’t let you repeat any part of any identity you’ve ever been before.

By the time I made it in, I was a little cranky.

But then, lo and behold.

I saw this piece of loveliness. (You may have to click on it to appreciate the font more fully.)

You guys, I was instantly pumped up like Arnold Schwarzenegger used to be when he was on steroids.

  • And I would like to take this opportunity to thank every English teacher that I have ever had. I’m just positively overwhelmed. And…wow…I’m just so unprepared for a moment like this…
  • I would like to thank Laura Ingalls Wilder and Judy Blume. I’d like to thank William Faulkner and and Harper Lee and Kate Chopin and F. Scott Fitzgerald…Omigosh, y’all. You know who you are.
  • I’d also like to thank the unattractive green swivel chair in my parents’ house for letting me sit there for hours, escaping to different lands.
  • And thanks to all my former students who hit LIKE when I update my status on Facebook, even if my status isn’t interesting or funny. I’m just happy you let me know you are still out there and you haven’t minimized me. Yet.

Look, there he is now.

So once again the universe teaches this twit a lesson.

Life will always be filled with bumps in the road.


Somehow, some truck eventually comes along and some hot dude steps out and takes his shirt off and patches the hole with gravel.

It always works out, y’all.

(Except when it doesn’t.)

Anyway, it’s extra nice to have this happen during my blogoversary month.

And don’t forget, it’s not too late to register for a chance to win Elena Aitken’s SUGAR CRASH.


Tweet This Twit @rasjacobson

The 8-Year Old Chimney Sweep: A #LessonLearned by Franky Jebb

This personal narrative was written by Franky Jebb, one of my students from Monroe Community College who was enrolled in my Comp-101 class during the Fall 2011 semester.

I’m pleased to share his words here.

• • •

Click on the teacher lady

The Eight-Year Old Chimney Sweep

One summer day, my older sister, Michaela, convinced me to slide down a chimney. This isn’t as traumatic as it may at first sound. It wasn’t a roof chimney, just a stubby 7-foot chimney used for backyard bonfires and barbecues. At age eight, the thought of slipping down a chimney sounded positively intriguing. With Santa Claus as my main inspiration, you can imagine how a child might see shimmying down a chimney as the experience of a lifetime.

And it was.

I went in feet first: my arms reached up to the sky, my head just barely visible.

But part way down, I got stuck.

This is not the chimney in which Franky got stuck. It just seemed like a really good image.

Which was pretty much when I realized there wasn’t going to be an easy way out.

After a few feeble attempts to free me, Michaela scampered inside the house to get my mother. Soon, it seemed the whole neighborhood had congregated in front of my chimney.

Stuck in my tight spot for close to an hour, I started to panic. People shouted muffled instructions and tugged on my hands. I didn’t think I would ever get out of there. I could hear people mumbling but could see nothing except the body of my neighbor kneeling over me and — occasionally — the summer sky.

Finally, thanks to the combined efforts of neighbors – some of whom slithered inside the chimney where the coals would normally be and pushed on the soles of my bare feet, and other neighbors who yanked my arms from the atop — I was rescued. Applause filled my ears and I was surrounded by a large group of friends, families, and neighbors who were relieved to see me back on the ground once again. With my skin sooty and the smell of charcoal in my nostrils, I climbed off the cement stone monument and slunk into my house feeling like Pig Pen from Charlie Brown.

My father lectured me sternly about the dangers of putting myself into places not designed for people. Later, from the living room, I heard my father giving Michaela a lecture similar to the one I had received.

So I have learned to avoid tight places, yes.

And I learned about the dangers when one acts without considering the consequences.

But the real lesson that I learned from getting stuck in the chimney was an unforeseen one: I developed a humorous outlook on things. What I mean by that is if a serious situation occurs, I do my best to make a little joke out of it. Obviously, some things need to be treated seriously, but after the event had passed, my family proceeded to tease me. They poked fun at my “pleasantly plump” figure and wondered how I ever fit down that narrow passage. Ten years later, they still enjoy telling my friends about my most embarrassing moment. I learned that sometimes instead of making a big deal over everything, it’s better to go with it with a little self-deprecating humor.

When something has been bothering me, I simply remember getting pulled out of a chimney by my neighbors, being covered in ash and soot, and smelling of charcoal and burnt wood: it had to be hilarious.

Being the neighborhood chimney sweep is not something I share with everyone I meet, but when it comes to giving myself a reality check, it helps to look back on my most embarrassing moment, and remember my sense of humor. I truly believe that because I was more wedged than a slice of Gouda that day, I became more optimistic and fun-loving than other people. Finding the positive in things can be hard to do, especially in depressing scenarios but if you can, it often creates a better situation for everyone involved.

What do you remember getting in trouble for doing when you were little? Would you do it again?

Guest Post by Megan Killinger: Lessons From The Spectrum

photo by Sean Rogers at flickr.com

This personal narrative was written by Megan Killinger, a student in one of my Composition-101 classes during the Fall-Winter 2010 semester.

“No, no, no! Look at me, Megan!” my mother would say to me tapping the tip of her nose with her finger, repeatedly trying to get me to make eye contact. She did her nose-tapping routine in public — pretty much everywhere, anytime I’d forget to look at her or at someone else. I hated her for it. She never understood me, no matter how I tried. Whenever she did her nose tapping thing, I could feel a hot flush of anger rush through me, aching like the pulse of blood behind a bruise. Apparently, I needed to get it through my head that the person who I was “wasn’t cutting it,” and I needed to transform myself into someone else more acceptable: a hard lesson to learn — that “what you are” isn’t good enough.

As a child, I hated crowds — hated going to the mall — rarely made eye contact, and had a tendency to say whatever I wanted. I was constantly told my actions were “inappropriate,” and I learned to live in a world filled with criticism and boundaries.

I was always the odd one. School was a penitentiary for me, for it was difficult to make friends. I watched my peers react to each other, and that’s how I learned the basics on “How to Make Friends-101.” Personally, I would have preferred to have hit myself in the face with a shovel rather than associate with people, for kids always saw me as “weird.”  I was too blunt or too curious; I learned that telling the truth was not always acceptable. For example, when someone asked me if the outfit she was wearing made her look fat, I learned that it isn’t always appropriate to tell the truth.

So I clammed up.

Guest blogger, Megan Killinger

Growing up, my mother and my doctors were the worst. My mother constantly told me “We’ll find out what’s wrong and fix it.” But I didn’t think anything was wrong with me; nevertheless, I must have seen fourteen different psychologists. No one could figure it out, until one day, as I sat there, playing with some little wooden blocks (as per usual), I heard something I didn’t think I’d ever hear.

“I know what it is!” Quack Doc #14 said to my mother, oh so casually, after spending a lovely ten minutes with me. His stupid tone, just like all the others and their lame stereotypical Quack Doc questions; how I wished I could kick him his shin and see how breezy his tone would be then.

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, and no — it doesn’t mean I’m “retarded.” My life drastically changed that day — November 12, 1999. My mother was finally granted a reason for my so-called “abnormal” behavior. She cried, and her sobs sounded like a dying mouse; maybe someone told her that I was a retard.

Once I had a diagnosis, my mother enjoyed telling people “my secret” to anyone I brought home. This shattered the “normal” image I worked so hard to create. I watched and tried to make myself as much like the others as possible, so I’d have a chance at fitting in. Honestly, I’m still impressed at how well I did.  I was (and still am) careful about how close I let people get to me at first, so when I drop “the Asperger bomb,” they know me and then they can decide whether it changes anything. But back then, with my mom beating me to the punch, it made maintaining friendships a lot more difficult. When people heard the word “autistic,” they automatically conjured up a drooling idiot or something along those lines.

After I was diagnosed at age 9, I felt like a drug-lord-zombie for a while. It seemed like Quack Doc had me trying out a new medicine every month. Concerta was a real winner. When I took Concerta, I felt like all my life’s blood had been drained, like I wasn’t present — almost. Once, while on that medication, I sat and counted the lines on a bug’s wings. It is amazing how a person can tell her doctor that what they’re giving her is making her ill and then have that doctor respond by prescribing a higher dose of the same medication. Things were eventually adjusted.

I used to get angry with myself, when someone could tell I was autistic. I kept telling myself I didn’t have Asperger’s, that I wouldn’t be that person, but I stopped fighting and learned to accept my diagnosis. I tried to make small changes, for I understand now in order to obtain what I want  — a “normal life” — I have to play by everyone else’s rules: Monkey-see, monkey do.

These days I have some fancy coping mechanisms. One of my coping methods is to play a type of mind game, which involves me asking a ridiculous amount of questions without giving much information about myself. In other words, I get the person I’m talking to inform me about themselves without really having to say much at all. In addition, I always check myself to make sure I look everyone square in the eye and, I am happy to report, I have made some close friends. I even like going to the dreaded crowded, noisy mall.

What I have gathered from my 18 years of life experience is that people reject what they don’t know. If they don’t understand something, most people don’t even want to try. My first semester at college was exactly what I expected, for the most part. To be honest, I was just really excited to have a fresh start. At college, no one knows anything is “wrong” with me, which is a great feeling. I’m finding acceptance in college, and its a part of what I have always wanted: to be seen with unbiased eyes. Sometimes I still speak a little too quickly and I still have to watch what I say to people. I suppose I will always find it hard to blend in, but college is showing me that there can be more to life than just blending in.

Guest Post by Leanna Best: Lessons From Javan

Photo by Travis S. at flickr.com

This narrative was written by Leanna Best, a student in one of my Composition-101 classes held during the Fall-Winter 2010 semester at Monroe Community College.

My aunt’s third child, Javan, was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his throat. Without air for five minutes, doctors told my aunt that Javan was not going to survive because he had lost too much oxygen. My aunt asked the doctors to try anything they could to help him to regain consciousness. The doctors put him on a respirator where each minute felt like an hour. Amazingly, Javan began breathing independently again, but the doctors told my aunt that Javan would be handicapped for the rest of his life as a result of the brain damage he had suffered. The doctors also told my aunt that Javan’s lifespan would be shorter than normal.

Guest-blogger, Leanna Best

All my aunt wanted was for her son to live, and her wish came true. But the doctors were right, too. Javan is handicapped. He cannot walk, talk, eat, or dress himself. Throughout his life he has always been in a wheelchair. Every few years, Javan has to get a bigger wheelchair because he is still growing. He is now sixteen years old and has been in a wheelchair for his entire life.

Javan has short, dark brown hair. He is very thin, but he is still very heavy. Javan can only wiggle his arms and legs in his black wheelchair, but he does not have enough muscle strength to walk or lift anything; nevertheless, he is a very happy teenager and always has a smile on his face.

Each day, my aunt faces the struggles of having a handicapped son. He has to go to a special school and get special care every day. Each day, my aunt lifts Javan out of his bed, washes him, dresses him, feeds him, and even changes his diaper. She has a huge responsibility and will have to live with this for the rest of her life. As Javan’s body grows, he gets heavier, and lifting him has become challenging. She will always have to worry about her son having a reduced lifespan.

Knowing Javan has made a huge impact in my life because I see how my aunt struggles with my younger cousin. I love him just as I love each of my cousins, and I hate to see him suffer. I hate to see him cry, and I hate not knowing what he is thinking or what he wants us to know. I know it will be extremely hard for my entire family the day he is no longer with us.

I have learned so much from watching what my aunt goes through every day, taking care of Javan. I don’t know if I would be able to do what she does every day without a lot of help. From watching my aunt, I have learned how big a responsibility it is to take care of a special needs child on a daily basis. Javan cannot communicate in words at all; he can only make sounds. My aunt has to try to figure out what he needs or wants on her own. I have seen how hard it is raising children, and I can hardly imagine what it would be like to try to raise a child who cannot clearly communicate in words or gestures.

My aunt is very patient and caring. She gives Javan the care he needs every day. While I like to think that I am good with Javan and enjoy the time I spend with him, I also like taking him home. I don’t think I could handle this type of responsibility every day, along with having four other children to care for.

My whole family loves Javan so much and we would not trade him for anything. My aunt was given this challenge and she has mastered it with lots of love, time, and effort. My wish for my aunt and Javan for 2011 is a simple one: for them to be happy and healthy!

What Our Actions Teach Our Kids About The Earth

image by D. Sharon Pruitt @ flickr.com

Monroe Community College has a new greenhouse on campus and this past school year, more than 850 students enrolled in 11 courses — from botany to business management — with an agricultural component. Some of these classes made use of the greenhouse, where — with state-of-the-art heating and cooling systems — tomatoes potted in soil thrive near micro-greens cultivated hydroponically in nutrient-enriched water.

This summer MCC launched a week-long Agriculture Summer Camp for Kids. And this semester, MCC students — for the first time — are able to take an introduction to agriculture course. Much of the push for MCC’s closer ties to the agricultural community comes from Bob King, who is the founding director of the Agriculture and Life Sciences Institute at MCC, established in January 2007. “People are more and more concerned about sustainability and how to account for their carbon footprint. And what better way to do (that) than through agriculture?” King is quoted as saying.

I try to remain optimistic, but I find myself wondering if our efforts are merely an exercise in too little, too late? As thousands of gallons of oil oozed into the Gulf just off the coast of my beloved former home of Louisiana, I found myself thinking about how the more we try to fix things, the more we muck things up.

We teach our children they can be anything, that they can do anything. Do we teach them to sit quietly and listen to the earth? To appreciate a blade of grass? To understand how we are dependent on the oxygen produced by the plants and trees around us? Are we willing to spend the extra time to tend our own lawns rather than dump funky chemicals onto our properties to make our lawns look like golf-course greens?

My friend, Jennifer Hess, is working to make change in our local school district lunch program: To integrate healthier choices into the kids’ daily fare; after all, that is what the district health curriculum preaches. She has written an amazing blog on the topic of school nutrition. I am behind her 100%. How far are people willing to go to learn about the effects of hormones in meat and milk? About high fructose corn syrup and its relationship to the obesity epidemic? What do you do when you learn that supposedly vitamin packed soft-drinks turn out to be no healthier than sodas? And once you know, how willing are you to change your purchasing and eating habits?

“Out of The Closet” by Chrissy Teague

This piece was written by a former student from Monroe Community College, Crissy Teague. She is one smart, beautiful, tough cookie.

image from google.com

Everything I own in the world fits behind two locked closet doors. Last year I divorced, got fired and denied for unemployment. My nine-year old  and I moved back home with my mother. I felt lost. What could I control? I could take care of what little I owned. I locked away clothes, movies, CD’s, shoes, video games and hygiene products. No one would borrow or damage what was “mine.” It belonged to me. My thirteen year-old sister would no longer take my clothes without asking, not even the dirty ones — (I locked the hamper up too). Everything changed, but I would be  in control of my little world.

Then, my son threw two mega fits while we accompanied my mother to the mall. He first cried when I refused his request for a certain video game. Telling him to “put it on his Christmas list,” or “we can’t afford it because Mommy’s not working,” or “you hardly play the the your other Wii games” did not make the tears subside. Mega fit number two came when I gave him a caramel rice cake topped with peanut butter to snack on. His lack of gratitude, and double dose of tears in two hours resulted in up a “starving kids in Africa” speech.

Fuming, I sat arms crossed. How could my child be so ungrateful? Why is he so selfish/self-centered? After a few moments I realized, this behavior is learned: Narcissism as taught by me. I remembered my belongings under lock and key. I’ve been doing this all wrong. Not just training my child, but living. My new conviction: God did not breathe life into me so I could horde pleasures for myself then die, an empty existence.

guest blogger, Crissy Teague

The little I own in the closets now seems like too much. It’s time to come out of the closets. I will give to my local community. I will go through my movies/video games and donate to local orphanages. My son has extra toys, books to give to a daycare, or hospital children’s wing, or library. A dozen fancy dresses and shoes can go to the Fairy Godmother project. Instead of spending nights indoors watching movies, my son and I will volunteer. It is better to give than to receive. I’m going to give my son a rich legacy—a legacy of giving to others.

What are you holding onto that might benefit someone else? Needs have never been greater. What better time to give than now? You may feel like you don’t have much. I understand. I’m a jobless single mother coming out of two closets. I’ve got nothing to lose and everything to give. I challenge you to do what you can. Our relatives, our friends, our neighbors need us. The quality of community is in our hands. Who knows the outcome? The life you change may be your own.

Stealth-Mode Purse Texters: OMG!

As if The Mosquito Ringtone isn’t enough (see a few blogs back: 5/22/10), teachers also have to worry about making sure students aren’t texting in class. At Monroe Community College, once in a while, I’ve seen students swishing around in their backpacks and purses for extended periods of time. I usually approach these students and quietly tell them to turn off their cell phones. I want my students to know that I notice what they are doing, that their behavior matters to me.

In “How to Successfully Text During Class: Using Your Purse,” Laura Mae instructs students on how they can master stealth-mode texting. She writes:

First, [get a big floppy purse]. Instead of holding your purse in your lap, try laying it sideways on your desk. Keep the opening … facing toward you. Place your phone near the opening. … Your teacher won’t be able to … see your phone … because he/she will be at his/her desk. So you’re good there. If they suspect something and get up to walk around, casually, without looking, push your cellular device back into your purse with your finger just enough so you’re [sic] phone is covered.

If you have a Qwerty keyboard, you can text, but not as easily as if you have an original keypad. If you do have an original keypad, … memorize how many times you need to press each button for the desired letter. I believe every phone has that little bump in the number 5, so that should be easy to navigate to the letters if you find it. Example: While your [sic] not looking, move your finger to the number five. Move up one key. Press three times. Wait a few seconds. Press once. Move back to the center. Move down one key. Press once. I just spelled “cat.”

The dozens of grammar errors in Laura Mae’s article make it clear to me that Laura Mae has not been listening to her instructors for a while. How could she possibly be paying attention when her brain is expending so much energy on composing blind messages as well as thinking about where she has to place her fingers and how many times she has to tap-tap-tap in order to send her messages so that they will be coherent upon receipt? Or maybe it isn’t so much that she isn’t paying attention, but that she seems to care more so much more about her social life than fine-tuning or editing her ideas, important skills which she will need to draw upon in the future.

The pervasiveness of text-messaging in class poses problems for teachers, particularly in the area of  test security, as students can send answers or hints to fellow students via cell phones, destroying the integrity of an entire test with a few keystrokes. Obviously, cheating damages classroom culture, but this is not really the main issue in my essay driven classroom. More annoying is the fact that instruction is interrupted when someone is caught texting. Then the problem extends beyond breaking the rules and not paying attention because instructors have to stop teaching to handle the situation, disrupting the learning environment, wasting time and tuition.

Some people will give me their best Darwinian argument: Students who honestly pay attention will do well on their tests and papers and end up doing better in life then those who are screwing around with their cell phones in class, so let the texters text and grow up to be ditch-diggers. I’m sorry, but I just can’t buy into that argument: Not at the college level and not at the high school or middle school levels either. And my reasons only partially have to do with concern over future skills. I’m genuinely concerned with civility and respect: Two other important values Americans seem to be eagerly flushing down the toilet.

Is it really so much to ask to turn off the technology and respectfully tune-in to and engage with other humans for 50 minutes?


Notes For Twits?

Cliffs Notes, originally uploaded by Purple_man.

I stumbled into a local Barnes & Noble yesterday and happened to enjoy watching a small group of high school students studying together. One student had a laptop and was tapping away and the others were reading. It was at that point I realized these students were reading those insipid CliffsNotes. You know the ones: Those skinny little yellow pamphlets designed to help English students better understand literature. For those of you who just landed on the planet, a well-intentioned guy named Cliff Hilegass started the company in his basement with a few Shakespeare titles; the company (no longer owned by Hilgrass) now offers notes on hundreds of titles. Detractors of the guides claim they allow students to bypass reading the assigned literature. The company, of course, claims to promote the reading of the original work, and views its material as a supplement, not as a substitute to the assigned reading.

I can only tell you what I saw: Several high school students sitting in the café sipping expensive coffee drinks not reading the primary text. They did not even actually appear to have the original text with them, and in between reading the CliffsNotes, they alternately texted friends, took phone calls, listened to music on their iPod Touches, and chatted it up with other friends who entered the café area.

Here’s my feeling on this topic. Ick. While these were high school students, I have no doubt that this is a similar process with regard to the way my college students approach reading and, later, writing. These days I feel a little hesitant about praising the work of students whose work I think is interesting or fresh, as I worry I may be positively reinforcing the habit of some students of picking up critical information from an outside source – a practice commonly called plagiarism.

I know that there are a million other sources available to students today besides CliffsNotes. Hell, they can purchase entire papers right off the Internet. Last year, a student actually listed a posting on Craigslist requesting someone to write his final English paper because he just didn’t have the energy to do it. He was willing to pay $150. I believe someone from the Monroe Community College English Department responded to the post and nailed the lazy, little twit. But I do wonder what has happened to personal pride and the hard work ethic. I wonder how many parents actually sit down to discuss cheating with their children. Do students understand that taking someone else’s ideas and presenting them as their own (without giving citation) is actually unethical? Do their parents?

For me, the person who uses CliffsNotes is a type of person who is afraid to think critically. Reading literature gives students practice in making their own connections, drawing their own conclusions, which can be supported by the facts with which they have been presented. I want my students to practice critical thinking so that they recognize that their voices and opinions are vital, and have power, not only inside the classroom but outside the classroom as well. The fact that students would trust a person that they do not even know just because he/she has a few extra letters after his/her name (PhD, M.S., D.D.S., M.D., J.D., etc..) represents another problem we have today; namely, people are too willing to take it from “the experts” before considering things thoroughly themselves. Students who use “Notes” of any form are not only cheating themselves, but they are cheating the world of their ideas. The best students are ones who are willing to take risks, engage in a dialogue about the literature: They are the ones who will be prepared to deal critically and creatively with opposing views, and recognize they need not feel threatened by ideas or beliefs which are different from their own.

I know great students exist. It just seems so dang easy to cut corners these days, like we have made it too easy for students to not do all that hard work that must occur inside their brains long before the pen ever hits the paper, or fingertips ever touch the keypad.

What do you say to your children to encourage them to think independently and express their own ideas, especially if they are struggling with the material?

I Have Seen the Future and it is Web-Enhanced

photo from john_a._ward from flickr.com

In an effort to stay competitive in my job at my local community college, I recently signed up to take a 20 hour course to learn the latest and greatest ANGEL technology which – in theory – is supposed to help me to help my students by allowing me to “web enhance” my class. Some people teach entire classes online and love it. I have not jumped on this bandwagon. In fact, I imagine that is not a wagon I will ever jump onto without kicking and screaming.

I believe part of the educational experience – at every level – involves the relationship between the instructor and the pupil who need to interact with each other in real life, not just via email. I also believe it is necessary for students to learn in a classroom filled with other bodies – bodies that have minds and mouths which can vocalize serious differences of opinions and that it is an important role of the instructor to act as a moderator in some of these interchanges.

I attended the very first 5-hour ANGEL session and left feeling a little pessimistic. The man heading up the session started off with an ice-breaker activity where everyone introduced themselves, explained where they taught, in which department, and how they planned to integrate ANGEL technology into their curriculum. Many people attending the hands-on seminar were strictly online adjunct instructors. They were happy to have jobs and didn’t seem to mind that they had never actually met their students and seemed content to receive the one required digitally uploaded photo. One woman proudly announced she had individual conferences with half of her students via SKYPE right before a major essay was due. There were lots of ooohs and aaahs at this, lots of frenzied note-taking. Math teachers and gym teachers seemed to all really like ANGEL; I’m not sure what that means.

When it was my turn, the instructor pointed at me and asked, “And you? The one in the black turtleneck who is hiding a little?”

“Well,” I admitted, “I’m not planning to go all the way with this new technology. I am merely looking to enhance.”

I looked across the room and saw a few people roll their eyes. I wondered what that was about. And then I had an out of body experience. I realized they saw me as a dinosaur. I suppose at 43 years old,  I sort of am. I actually remember loose-leaf paper. It came in two choices: wide-lined and college lined. My 6th grade English teacher didn’t like us to rip out paper from our notebooks; “shredded wheat,” she called it, and she wouldn’t accept assignments written on it. That’s when I discovered my preference for college-lined loose-leaf paper. (This same teacher did not like girls to wear clogs to class and made us line up our shoes at the front of the room and walk in socks to our seats. Our shoes, she insisted, were “too noisy” and “forever falling off feet.” I’m pretty sure she had some major issues, but I digress.) In high school, Mrs. Landfear had us write in those black and white composition notebooks and taught us the traditional five paragraph essay format and citation which has served me well for my entire life.

As an undergraduate student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, I had a fabulous professor who required his students to read a particular book by a particular author and told us to write an essay on a topic of our own choosing due in one week. There were no email reminders. I would never have dared to call him, and anyway, I would have had to have found a phone-book, a payphone, and a bunch of quarters. If I didn’t know how to do something, like citation, I consulted my pocket manual or style book or I asked a fellow classmate. In other words, I figured it out myself. No one owned a personal computer. Instead, we hauled our books and our butts to writing labs, where dozens of computers loomed silently on long tables. If every computer was taken, you simply had to put your name on a wait list and wait for someone to finish. The room of thirty or so computers was linked to one black and white laser printer designed to handle only text. There was no Internet access because the Internet had not yet been invented.

These days I am repeatedly being told that students “need to be able to access online technology” because they have grown up using it. I have also been told they cannot read entire pages of text, so it is imperative to incorporate funny little pictures into my hand-outs. So far, I have refused to do it.

So what exactly am I hoping to do with this ANGEL technology? I suppose I might use it to provide my students with a page to see my Course Information Sheet, my policies regarding plagiarism, my deadlines; maybe a link to some grammar exercises; perhaps a link to EasyBib.com to help them with the terrifying act of citing their sources properly. To be honest, I’m not 100% sure what I’m going to do with ANGEL. I’m not a big fan of all this cyber-coddling. I will tell you what I will not be doing with ANGEL. I will not be using it as a place where students can have “online discussions” in lieu of real life discussions. And while proponents of the environment may shudder, my students may not send me their essays online in some drop-box so that they can blame technology when I didn’t receive it. I want to see their eyes scan their finished drafts, checking for comma splices and run-on sentences.

Who knows, maybe I’ll use it on the first day of class next fall, you know, as a homework assignment to get them to find my online site. Maybe I’ll have them do some kind of ice breaker activity; there’s no reason everyone should have to suffer through those heinous get-to-know-you activities when you can simply do them online, right?

Sigh. I always liked that part.