Category Archives: Teaching

I guess there is some code behind this writing business, and I don’t have it.

But I also think what happened to me in that program is what a lot of women experience, as well as many others who are just getting admitted into this arena of literature. My teachers understood my educational path but still expected me to know a lot more than I did, and they rejected my writing about the life experiences I had actually had. I remember one teacher not only refusing to workshop a story I wrote but announcing to the class that she was doing so. It was a very lightly fictionalized story about one of my cousins. The teacher told the class she found it “violent.” I felt humiliated and I did not understand—I was told to write what I knew, then when I did, that what I knew was not okay. And the fact was that there had been a great deal of violence in my life. One day a fellow student in that class turned in a poem about driving home to her very rich suburb in Connecticut, and wearing furs, and touring Europe for the summer. The teacher loved it. At that point I thought: I guess there is some code behind this writing business, and I don’t have it.

Susanne Paola Antonetta


the world is ambivalent about feminism

[T]here’s not a lot of factual awareness of feminism. It’s more like this word, this scary word, that maybe doesn’t apply to our lives for most of these students. And then some of them are curious and starting to dabble in thinking about feminism and what that might mean in their lives. And some of them are just downright hostile toward feminism because they think it’s something it’s not. And so you’re going to get a range of things. But mostly, I see a lot of ambivalence.

I think the world is ambivalent about feminism. So I can’t blame college students. I think they’re reflecting the greater culture’s attitude toward feminism. So what I can do is, in ways that are appropriate, advocate for feminism and help the students learn what feminism is about.

Roxane Gay


I’ve been feeling a bit meh this past week because it’s annual progress report time and I’m still not done The Dissertation. On the bright side, I think one more semester should do it (in terms of finishing the draft).

Anyway, I went to campus to drop off the aforementioned report and whilst there checked my mailbox. In it were my TA evaluations from past semesters. And in amongst the inevitable “too sarcastic”* and “hard marker” (if anything, I’m too soft, so that remark always amuses me) comments were so many positive comments, the most enthusiastic comments I think I’ve ever received from students. Warm fuzzy! 🙂

*Example of “too sarcastic” thing I might actually say: “So! I’m sure everyone’s done this week’s reading!” {implied “not!” due to past experience, but with much enthusiasm and the secret hope that they might all say “Yes!” I’m an optimistic cynic.} I know! So mean, right?

I don’t think this is a me problem specifically; I think it’s a Gen-X/Gen-Y generational difference. It comes up online quite a bit. Whenever I see Gen-Ys complaining about someone being too “mean” or “sarcastic,” inevitably the person being discussed is Gen-X and just as inevitably, what a Gen-Yer interprets as “being mean” I interpret as joking/teasing. Gen-Yers just have different expectations than Gen-Xers. Gen-Xers are snarky. Gen-Yers are adorkable. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

In fact, snark might be the key characteristic in defining Gen-X. Hmm. Perhaps I should code for snark. Ooh! Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could work snark into my title?! Yes. I must make that happen.

Hmm. aykb, I can relate anything to Seinfeld, but now it seems I can also relate anything to The Dissertation. Seinfeld still sneaked in there, though 😉

Write more like the way that you talk

Ha! This is what I always tell students (re: writing academic papers).

I owe a vast debt to Simon Hoggart of The Guardian (son of the author of The Uses of Literacy), who about 35 years ago informed me that an article of mine was well argued but dull, and advised me briskly to write “more like the way that you talk.” At the time, I was near speechless at the charge of being boring and never thanked him properly, but in time I appreciated that my fear of self-indulgence and the personal pronoun was its own form of indulgence.

Christopher Hitchens

The slow death of logical thought

In recent years I’ve tutored students at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism whose writing is disorganized almost beyond human help, but they seldom mention “writing” as what they came to the school to learn. … They return from a reporting assignment with a million notes and a million quotes and no idea what the story is about.

The reason, I assume–and I don’t expect a Nobel Prize for this deduction–is that people now get their information mainly from random images on a screen and from random messages in their ears, and it no longer occurs to them that writing is linear and sequential; sentence B must follow sentence A. Every year student writing is a little more disheveled; I’m witnessing the slow death of logical thought. So is every English teacher in America.

William Zinsser

The deep river was running

There are a number of mysteries in [Penelope Fitzgerald’s] life, areas of silence and obscurity. One of these has to do with “lateness”. How much of a late starter, really, was she? She always said in interviews that she started writing her first novel (The Golden Child) to entertain her husband, Desmond Fitzgerald, when he was ill. But, like many of the things she told interviewers, there is something a little too simple about this. At least one story was published before that first novel, and her archive reveals how much was going on in her interior life before she started publishing.

Fitzgerald’s years of teaching – it’s evident from her letters – were often hard grind, exhausting and frustrating, in that staffroom full of “exhaustion, worry and reproach”. There is a poignant note inside the back cover of her teaching notebook for 1969, a long time before she started to publish: “I’ve come to see art as the most important thing but not to regret I haven’t spent my life on it.” Yet the conversations she was having with writers in her teaching books show that she was always thinking about art and writing: they show how the deep river was running on powerfully, preparing itself to burst out.

Hermione Lee

Everybody wants to be delighted

In my own experience having written a whole lot of different texts for academic audiences, the response to what I write is overwhelmingly more positive when I make it personal and accessible — chatty, even — than when I write a paper that more closely resembles the IMRAD tone and structure. I’ve also noticed that for academic lectures, not just ones I’ve given but ones I’ve attended, audience response is much more positive when a speaker tells stories along with presenting information and argument.

Everybody wants edutainment. They may deny it, but that is, in fact, exactly what they want, I used to think, with a bit of annoyance. But now I’ve come to the more charitable view that everybody wants to be delighted while they are instructed.

Clancy Ratliff

Somebody Somewhere

I just love this story:

[O]ne week ago today, when the snow was thick and the sky was gray (again), I received the loveliest surprise:  an email from a woman who’d been on the editorial staff at Quarterly West 15 years ago, when QW published my little flash piece, “In Theory.”

Currently teaching college workshops in creative writing, she wrote:  “I have managed to always keep a copy of that issue close-by so as to teach it, but somewhere in one of my moves, I misplaced my copy.”   She wondered if I had a spare I could send.

Who knew?  You see, you might think your work falls into a pool and just lies at the dark bottom of the pond like littering leaves, rotting away, but somebody somewhere might have been teaching it for 15 years!  You just gotta keep the faith.

Joy Castro


In their first tutorials, I asked my students what the first news/media event they remembered was. It’s a 100-level class, so some of them are 18. This is some of what they came up with:

Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988)*
Velvet Revolution (1989)*
San Francisco earthquake (1989)*
Gulf War (1990-1991)
Blue Jays win World Series (1992/1993)
Kurt Cobain commits suicide (1994)
Canucks lose in game 7 of Stanley Cup final / riot ensues (1994)
OJ Simpson car chase / trial (1994-1995)
Princess Diana dies (1997)
Y2K (1999)
September 11, 2001
Michael Jackson dangles baby over balcony (2002)
Tsunami (2004)

The students who listed the earliest events (marked with asterisks) all stated that they remembered them because they were there when the event happened (so it was a personal memory as well as being a media event). Mid-90s was what I expected. The more recent events… well, I’m pretty sure that they all can remember further back than 2 years ago. (Some of them even listed stuff that happened this year!) I figure those students just said the first thing that came to mind (rather than their first-ever memory). But… I suppose it is possible that 9/11 is the first big event that some of them remember.

Feel old yet? 😉