I’m writing this in between grading my (first ever!) students’ second poems. I’ve been teaching for about a month.
One of the first things I learned about teaching: grading takes an ungodly amount of time. There are several steps, which include:
1. Excitedly read through first batch of student poems on the bus home from class.
2. Read poems at home.
3. Read poems aloud to roommate (also a teacher) to make sure you’re not missing something.
4. Write comments on poems in pencil.
5. Worry comments are too prescriptive.
6. Erase comments and try again.
7. Agonize about putting numbers on poems.
8. Briefly consider flaunting university guidelines and not grading poems.
9. Put numbers on poems.
10. Reread poems and compare grades.
11. Hope students read comments instead of just staring at their grades.
I’m hoping veteran teachers (read: teachers who’ve been at it longer than a month) can skip a few of these steps without losing sleep at night. I’m hoping I’ll stop losing sleep at night anyway. I’m hoping I’ll soon stop getting nauseous before every class.
I’m doing my best.
I was a nerd in high school. I came to every class prepared, participated, and did all the extra credit assignments. I was voted “teacher’s pet” in the yearbook and was proud of it. I looked down on the students who didn’t care. This trend continued through college.
Now, twice a week I stand in front of fifteen undergrads, talk about Stevens and Plath, and pray someone will raise a hand with a comment. I want my students to be as excited as I was, as engaged as I was. But that isn’t fair to them: I’m at a Big 10 school, this course fulfills an elective, I’m obviously nervous, and half of them would rather be at the gym than learning the basics of metaphors. Still, there are sparks of excitement when we discussed the ‘Polish rudder’ in O’Hara’s “To the Harbormaster” and wrote to the Civil Wars’ “Barton Hollow” video. It’s more than enough to keep me motivated, to keep me invested and trying.
The thing is, they’re my first class, so I like them just a little too much, and (because I had a bad experience with my first workshop instructor) I desperately want them to like me back. I want them to learn and to have fun. When I ask a question and get blank stares in return, I think their silence means, “You’re not getting through to us and we don’t like you,” when it’s probably just, “I’m tired because I’m an undergrad.” Perhaps I’m over-thinking the situation, but so are they.
I am convinced (based on my undergrad experience, a month of teaching, and a crash course in pedagogy) that teaching creative writing is less about ‘teaching’ and more about ‘getting students to trust themselves’ and ‘getting students to understand it’s ok to let go of the grade, to play.’ Aubrey Hirsch already discussed something like this in greater detail. Students have been told time and again that poetry is serious business, that you have to read a poem twenty times to even begin to understand its complexities.
And while that may be true, it puts a great deal of pressure on new writers. Not only do students have to turn in a poem to be graded, they’re under the impression that good poems have to be complex enough to deserve—nay, require—a dozen readings. So they load their poems with competing metaphors, odd rhyme schemes, abstractions, and antiquated language, as I once did, expecting me to reward their hard work with a high grade. And because that often means they’ve ignored the assignment or failed to implement what we’ve gone over in class, I can’t. They see a low grade and they shut down. One student’s already accused me of giving his work low grades because I don’t personally like it.
There’s a lot to unpack, and it’s not like I can just shake them until they forget everything they’ve been told about writing, until they realize this class is about so much more than the grade. Their history is there; it can’t be ignored. So we have to find ways to trick them. The best poetry instructor I had as an undergrad, Peter Jay Shippy, worked with our desire to impress by attaching published poems to our workshop poems. By looking at what similar poets were doing in their work, we could learn to imitate better versions of ourselves.
That should be the goal of any writing class: to learn to fake it until you make it, which you can’t do if you haven’t (temporarily) let go of the formal, lit-crit baggage you’ve been carrying for years. Poetry is largely imitation. Imitation is play. And at the end of they day, if you’re not at least trying to play, your students are only going to care about their grades and you’re not going to get anywhere.
Doug Paul Case teaches a section of introductory creative writing at Indiana University, where he is an MFA candidate in poetry. His work has appeared in PANK, Annalemma, > kill author, and others.
In this first semester, I have learned various things about yearbook. Mainly about designing spread by using indesign, how to use camera including shuttle speed and ISO. For these, I had improved on taking spread pictures with better quality, and knowing how to make better spreads for yearbook’s design. For me, it was very fun because these were entertaining and not that stressful as learning other subjects.
First, ISO and shuttle speed are helpful for taking good pictures. That’s because these can control the brightness of images. As ISO goes up, the brightness went darker. For shuttle speed, it was opposite. So for this, I learned how to use ISO and shutter speed in different situation. For example, when the auditorium is dark, I modify the number of ISO and make the place looks more brighter for better quality.
However, the most important lesson was designing spread by using indesign. The first spread me and my partner SeJin made was at first harsh, but later come more comfortable. The things that I did well on my first spread were making no error in my spread, Before Ms. McKinnon told me that I have to make spread with no error, I found out I had about 8 errors. Mostly about missing links. So we found wheres the errors and we had perfectly fixed all the errors with green bottom that proves it. Secondly, my effective ppl were all above 220. When the effective ppl is under 220 or have “x” next to the number, it’s not valuable for yearbook spread. Well, at first I didn’t have any number under 220, but I saw some links with x next to the number which means I did not resize the images in proper way, So I had eliminated most of the spread pictures and I had inserted the same picture and resize them properly with no x next to the effective ppl number. I also think the back ground came cool. Because the time that I most used on was choosing the back ground. The final background was the fourth background that me and my partner finally both agreed on. Lastly, I had used proper size of font. By 9 size for captions and about 13 size font for every description. At first, I had font size of 18 and it really helped me decreasing the size and getting more space in my spread.
The challenges I had for this semester were first taking good photos and creative designs for my spread. First, I was in charge of taking photos in Week Without Wall 8. The first day went well and our yearbook crew took some good pictures, but from second day it went chaotic. That’s because we forgot to bring the charger and even though there were any chargers, we had slept the most days on tents so we didn’t have any electric holes to insert the chargers in. In addition, sadly the battery went off from second day and we couldn’t take any pictures after the second day since we don’t have any technology that takes pictures. Second, our spread had many shape of rectangles and it looked a bit boring. In addition, I saw many other spreads from other groups and their spread looked cool because they used variety types of shapes and creative descriptions. Furthermore, their spreads looked very creative since there’s really looked like a product from the spread company. In other words, it looked very professional rather than amateurs like mine. Also our spread looked simple with lots of space left for our spread, but others almost had lack of space to for pictures, descriptions, and captions to be inserted and it really looked cool since they have those almost filling every space of the spread.
However, I think I know ways to improve my mistakes and others from my spread since I tried to change multiple things from the first spread. At first, I will try to bring charger for every place that I go to take pictures. In addition, even though the battery is out, I will try to ask many teachers as possible to have the electric hole that the charger can be inserted. Also, I will try to make more complex design, but stills looks modern and simple. I will do that by using the sketch first and thinking about what will go to the certain description box and pictures. So I can have better knowledge on my spread which can be result as better quality because I had organized the entire spread. In other words, It can help me to have more professional design. Next, because i’m really bad at grammar I will ask various students whose doing nothing and told them to fix my grammar for me.
In conclusion, the semester 1 had came out fascinating for when this keep goes, I think semester 2 will even more fascinating than semester 1. That’s because now I had learned basic steps on taking pictures and design so I will have better chance of enjoying.