Welcome to We Three Pens!

Welcome to We Three Pens!

We Three Pens are three good friends. We are all adjunct professors doing teaching gigs at multiple college. We all pursued our doctorate degrees with dreams of landing a job as full time professors, but that was before reality slapped us in the face.

I have had two full time positions, but it meant pulling up stakes, leaving home, and moving to a new place. I was fortunate that when I taught at South Texas College in McAllen, Texas that I worked with wonderful colleagues and students who were friendly, very polite, and challenged in many ways while they pursued their education. I was sad to leave, but due to my husband’s health problems it was important to live near family again.

It is highly unlikely that I will be hired full time in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in spite of my full time experience . Many things are against the odds and so I am resigned to my current status. The problem is that I still dream of teaching courses I am interested in to people who would like to learn. I also dream of writing fiction and nonfiction.

When I went back to college, it was with the idea that I would get to teach and be off in the summers, during which time I would have time to write my dissertation into a book and to finish writing my two half-completed novels.  I had no idea about the hamster wheel of adjuncting at that time.

Through this blog, my fellow Pens and I hope to explore ideas and subjects that interest us and a wider audience. I hope that readers will find and appreciate The Three Pens and what they have to say. I hope our audience will respond to our posts and also share their ideas and experiences.

Running out of ink,

Laura Mohsene

Featured post

Pre-Semester Excitement


When I was a child, I always looked forward to starting school in the Fall. It meant buying new pencils and pens, packages of paper for writing, erasers, a stapler, and 3×5 cards. It often meant new teachers and new subjects to study. I was enthusiastic at the idea of a new year of school. Now as an instructor,  I am still excited about starting a new semester.

I attended college one semester after high school and not again until 20 years later. Then I attended for two years. I arrived at University of Dallas in January 1998 with approximately 2 years worth of credits toward a bachelor’s degree. I was mentally and psychologically ready for university classes. I had a burning desire to learn and a goal of earning a degree. I did not complain about the amount of work required even though I was working full time while taking 9 credit hours of classes. Thirteen years later in December 2011, I left UT Dallas with a PhD in Humanities. During that 13 years, I lived my life in semesters: Spring, Summer, and Fall semesters were the benchmarks for my life. Not once, during those years did I dread the next semester. In fact, I approached each semester with enthusiasm. I looked forward to reading the assigned books and other material. I looked forward to being in class to hear the professor teach and to participate in class discussions. I know. I’m a nerd.

Now, as a college and university professor, I still retain the same enthusiasm for each new semester. As an instructor, I look forward to meeting new students, to teaching either new course material or material I feel I have improved. I am interested in the subjects I teach or have taught including: Composition/Rhetoric 1301 and 1302, Developmental English, Introduction to Humanities, Introduction to Literature, American History I and II, Technical Writing, British Literature, World Literature, and Film Studies. I want to share what I know with my students in the hope they will become enthusiastic learners.

I look forward to the challenge of leading students on a journey of discovery or a chance to improve their skills or knowledge. Except for the volume of grading required, I love being a teacher. I will be teaching two classes of Professional & Technical Communication at UT Dallas beginning next week for Spring 2018. In the past, I worked as a Help Desk analyst supporting Dell computers and HP printers. I also worked as a technical writer editing and revising material that covered almost everything related to cellular technology. I have been preparing for the upcoming semester by reading the textbook for the course which is a new one I have not used before, preparing material to share with students, and making a plan for the semester.

I know that most students do not share my enthusiasm and do not look forward to taking required courses. However, I always have a goal of convincing students that what they learn is valuable to their future careers and lives. Most students do not expect to have their lives influenced by an English class. They think of it as a chore to be completed. However, I hope that students will be convinced that writing skills are important and that learning how to think critically will help them in their lives as well as in their classes.

It will be great to be back on the campus at UT Dallas, my alma mater. I hope to see some of my former professors. Although I taught at the university as a Teaching Assistant while I was a student, this will be the first time I will teach as faculty, even if it is as part time faculty. I am excited about this semester.

I admit, that in the past, at times when I have taken on too many classes to teach that by the end of the semester, I was beaten down and had lost my enthusiasm amid growing stacks of ungraded assignments. However, no matter how discouraged I become, by the time a new semester rolls around, I am again excited by the freshness and promise  of a new semester on the horizon.

Dr. Laura Mohsene

Two Very Different Things

Wanting to write and writing are two very different things. For the past two weeks, I have wanted to write, yet my brain has been stuck in neutral. I have been unable to form complete thoughts about what I want to write. The desire alone produces nothing. I know that starting to write, even without inspiration, can lead to inspiration, but sometimes the soul is so numb that it needs a shock to wake up. As Robert Nelsen, my favorite professor when I attended UT Dallas, used to say: Life is one damn thing after another. And those damned things get in the way of my desire and ability to write.

A friend sent me a poem today in which he writes:

Every day doing things that ‘should’ be done
Death by the minute comes nearer
measured  by the hour … Day.   Year
Why do we mark time ?

That statement struck a nerve. While younger writers may also feel the press of time and the need to produce, writers my age are more aware that time is in shorter supply. I realized upon reading this poem that I needed inspiration and that poetic language can spark into action the desire to write. This poem got me started, but I needed more so I searched my bookshelves for a book of poetry and did not find one until I picked up The Norton Anthology of World Literature: Volume C. I began browsing it for poetry and came upon the poetry of Basavanna, an Indian poet who lived from 1106-1167. This Hindu poet wrote nearly 1000 short poems.

He writes:

Father, in my ignorance you brought me

through mothers’ wombs, through unlikely worlds.

Was it wrong just to be born,

O Lord (Siva)?

Have mercy on me for being born

once before.

I give you my word,

lord of the meeting rivers,

never to be born again.

He promises not to be born again because he works and plans to achieve his ultimate goal, moksha or liberation of the soul from the cycle of death and rebirth.

Now how does a poem by a mystic of the Middle Ages inspire my writing? It is his dedication to achieving his goal and the promise he makes that inspires me to start writing. Perhaps, also, I hear the soft footsteps of Time creeping along behind me.

As my friend, the poet, states so clearly…

Where is my soul as I wash up?
It cries quietly
I must be quiet  to cuddle it
To listen to its heartbeat
In emptiness
Away from a cacophony of practicalities.

…it is the “practicalities” that hinder me so. My souls is crushed under the mundane. Yet poetry can lift the burden from my soul.

Absence Explained

At the end of August, We Three Pens, were all hired to teach at a charter school. As anyone who has ever taught public or charter school full time knows, the job overwhelms one’s life. Lesson preparation, grading, the stress of teaching and all the other parts of that job, consumes one’s time. It leaves little time for contemplation or creativity.

For a variety of reasons, I quit the job, but my two fellow Pens are still working and teaching at the charter school. Much as I would like to, I am not going to write about my experiences in this job. For a variety of reasons, I quit and I am going back to teaching college classes. For me, taking the job was a mistake and the only way I could correct that mistake was by leaving the job and going back to doing what I want to do, which is to teach college classes.

Drs. Scally and Matthews will likely be contributing to our blog before long.

Dr. Laura Mohsene

Tick Tock


Years ago, I heard a very long-winded preacher say, “Time. Time! I’ve gotta have more time!” as he realized he was running out of time to finish his long sermon. I can identify with this frustration. I have a long list of things I want to accomplish before classes begin again. I have made progress on some of those things, but not many. Why? Do I not have enough time? Each day I have as much time as anyone else: 24 short hours. I have often said I need more than 24 hours in a day. Perhaps the earth could slow down its rotation around the sun. If I lived on Venus, a day would lasts 5,832 hours. Maybe then I could get everything done. Then I would have time to write my novel, turn my dissertation into a book, read the piles and piles of books I have, and spend more time playing with my cat, meet my friends for lunch or coffee more often, pay more attention to my husband, visit my parents, and talk to my children. Please note that I did not include housework in the list. I won’t ever have enough time for that!

Time is like money. There’s never enough if it for most of us. It seems though, that the more money one has, the more time they have. There are time-related perks to having lots of money. For example, if you have enough money so that you do not need to work or that you do not need to work full time, then  you have more time to do things you want to do. Teaching college classes takes a lot of time: time to prepare lessons for a full semester of classes, time to drive and walk to the classes, time to make copies of course material, time to teach the classes,  and time to answer questions after class, time to grade student work, and time to organize and do the paperwork required by each college. As adjuncts who make much less money than full time professors, we must teach more classes in more places for less money and spend more time.

I recall a Twilight Zone episode titled, “Time Enough at Last,” in which a man named Henry Bemis who passionately loves reading books, but whose wife and others in his life prevent him from having the time to read.  When he realizes that he is the lone survivor a nuclear  apocalypse, he finds a library and realizes that, at last, he has the time  to do all the reading he has desired. And then, he breaks his thick glasses, which required a complicated prescription, that he needs for reading. Now he has the time, but not the means to read. I often fear that by the time of my life when I will have more time for the reading and writing that I desire, that I will lose the capacity for it. I think of all the things I plan to do when I “get around to it.” Will I ever be able to do them? Perhaps not. This makes me sad and depressed.

Again, time is like money. Could I spend my time more wisely and not waste any of it? Probably. Inertia sets in sometimes when I finally have an hour or two to accomplish something I want to do, but the hour or two has soon passed before I have even begun. Can I save time? Not really. I doubt that I can take that half an hour I have between classes on Monday and Tuesday and write a novel in half hour slots. Half an hour is enough time to think about what I want to write and take notes, but not to actually write. I must have quiet and no interruptions in order to write. However, if I could add up all those in between minutes and half hours and use them in an 8 hour window, then I might be able to write a chapter or a short story.

How much time do we have? No one really knows. We are not promised another hour, nor another day. I often fear I might die before I write my novels and my book on Dallas Women and the Ku Klux Klan. If, as Malcolm Gladwell suggests, it requires approximately 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. To have time to write for 10,000 hours, I would certainly have to spend almost 2 days on Venus, yet it would take 110 days just to get to Venus. Even if I finished the Spring semester by May 15 and had the whole summer off from teaching, I would still need 3 more days to get to Venus. In the meantime, far more than 2 days would pass on earth before my two days were up on Venus so I don’t see how I can master my writing at the rate I’m practicing it now.

I also fear I may never get to read all the books I want to read. It is probably impossible for me to read all the books I want to read because I want to read ALL the books. I have given up time to sleep in order to read many times. I would rather read than eat at times and I surely would rather read than work. My ideal job would be to get paid to read and write great literature rather than spending my time reading freshman English composition essays, plus grading and commenting on them. In most cases, I probably spend more time reading the essays and commenting on them than my students spend writing them. I fear reading these quickly tossed off, badly written pages of drivel is going to cause me brain damage. I confess that there are some student essays that are interesting and well written, but those are a minority of the 32-36 pages of writing I have to read and grade for each student in one semester. I wish that I had as much time to read good books as I spend grading papers.

Ultimately,  I spend more time doing things I do not enjoy and do not want to do, than I spend doing the things I want to do. Whenever I do take the time to read or write, I feel like I have stolen the time because there are so many more things I need to do instead of doing the things I want to do. Two or three Christmases ago, my son asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I told him I wanted more time, more time to write and to read and to enjoy life. I am sure that if he could have given me that gift that he would have. Since it was a gift he could not give me, he drew a poster of a clock and a peaceful scene and symbols of time representing what I wanted. This was a special gift I treasure as is all of the time I am given.

I just wish I had more time. Beam me up to Venus, Scotty!

Dr. Laura Mohsene

Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That

Time’s a wastin’.  Time flies when you’re having fun. Time is money. Time is of the essence. No time like the present. Too much time on my hands. Don’t waste my time. Gotta kill some time. Time is an illusion.  You’ve run out of time. Time out! You’d better be on time. And so much more. Time is a pretty flexible critter, and it seems as if we have attached a great deal of importance to something that may or may not be just a social construct.

If time is an illusion, it is certainly a powerful one. It controls what we do and when we do it. So, who owns your time? And what value do those who buy or use your time place on it? Think about it.

During the Industrial Revolution and ever since, something happened to time – this construct, this concept, this thing that was so important but you couldn’t see, touch, or smell. Before the age of capitalism, big business, and giant corporations with tentacles in every aspect of life in ways that haven’t been seen since the Gilded Age, people might have worked from dawn to dusk, but those who were not slaves (another story entirely) could decide what to do with their time, and they reaped the rewards of being more in control of their days. They had trades; they had farms; they had professions, but they also determined what to do with their time and their skills. They were their own bosses. Gradually, as industry took over, and farms failed, and manufactured goods replaced cottage industries, something happened to people’s time. It shifted faster than Dr. Who in a Tardis. Suddenly, wealthy factory owners and businessmen had control of time. They parceled it out in increments and set intervals and decided what should be done when and for how long and they started buying up people’s hours to use for their own purposes. People began to realize that they had lost control of their own time and how they would use it.

Things that used to flow naturally with the seasons did not seem to matter so much now. Industry and the changes mechanization brought forced people to survive by selling not the fruits of their labor, not the creations of their hands and hearts, but their precious time. “I owe my soul to the company store” became a reality for so many. The factory boss or business owner now had the privilege of deciding what value to place on a person’s time and life. The payback was never in anyone’s favor except the men in charge. This is still true. Most people do not work for themselves. They are cogs in a system.

So, who owns your time? What sort of value do they place on it? What do they let you do or demand that you do with the precious hours of your life that you have handed over to them? Do they give you time to create? Are you allowed to pursue your heart’s desire? Not likely. Do you have a say in how your time is distributed? It is yours, after all. Is your time non-negotiable because you have sold it?

Do we really think this is normal? Why has it become acceptable? If the hours of your life are no longer yours, whose life is it? Who owns your time? What do you intend to do about it? This is something I have been lately pondering without much success. I slice my time-pie into lots of skinny pieces: classes, drive time, grading, planning for the next day’s work, errands. Oh, yes. And sleep, which I almost forgot, and that tells you quite a bit about my day. Also, recently, dogs, which are far more high maintenance than cats. You might notice the absence of a pie slice for cleaning. Mea culpa.

Still, I want my time to have value for me, not just for my employers. To accomplish this, I have to disconnect  my time from monetary value – what the system has decided my time is worth to its ever-chomping jaws. This is not easy, as the system and I clearly have different ideas about value. I have to remind myself that, for whatever reason, I am making the choice to offer my time and receive less value for it than I think – than I KNOW it is worth, and if I so choose, I can take it back. So, maybe I’m just renting it out. It does sound better that way.

So, who owns your time? And what value do YOU place on it?

5 Ways to Be Smarter Than You Are Now by Dr. Laura Mohsene

Travis Bradbury, a guest writer for Entrepreneur magazine and also Forbes magazine , in an article titled, “10 Research-Proven Tricks to Seem Smarter Than You Are” claims, “It’s great to be smart, but intelligence is a hard thing to pin down. In many cases, how smart people think you are is just as important as how smart you actually are.” Really?
It turns out that Bradbury was not the only person to read the research he references. I located a similar article by Drake Baer, who seems to have read the same research, in Business Insider titled, “9 Science-Backed Tricks for Appearing Smarter than You Are.” Apparently, Baer dropped one of the methods Bradbury recommended. In what may be a pursuit of brevity, Megan Elliott boils the advice down to “7 Ways to Look Smarter Than You Are” in an article in Money and Career CheatSheet. A video by Lilly Singh/ASAPScience on YouTube shares “6 Ways to  Appear Smarter Than You Are.” Another video offers “4 Psychological Tricks To Look Smarter Than You Are!” Finally, Alex Naidus a Buzz Feed staff member gives much more, rather than less, advice in an article titled, “14 Lazy Ways To Seem Smarter Than You Actually Are.” I think Naidus has hit on something important here about all of these articles and it is that some people want to appear smart rather than be smart. These articles all offer their readers shortcuts to looking smart for the person too lazy to take the time to become smart. Ironically, Naidus is the only one who suggests ways to look smart that could actually increase one’s intelligence.
According to the research to which these authors refer, one can look more intelligent by doing such things as: wearing glasses (even if you don’t need them), using a middle initial, using graphs in presentations, and speaking expressively.
This advice is good if you want to become a poseur, but I am more interested in being smart than I am in looking smart.  However, this advice may be attractive to Millennials or my Gen Z students.  Many people today, young or old, do not value the experience or results of learning. Unfortunately, most of my students want a college degree, but they do not want a college education. Their goal is to pass their courses with the least amount of effort on their part. It seems that the majority of students are not interested in the subjects they study. Since I teach required subjects such as English Composition, Literature courses, American History, and Humanities, most of my students are not in my class willingly and most are not there to learn. They want no more than to pass the course. They do not actually want to be smarter.
Unlike the intended audience for most of the advice articles about looking smarter, I want to actually be smarter than I already am. Long term, this is a more beneficial pursuit than the desire to have others think I am smart.
I enjoy learning new things. I am interested in almost everything. I think people are interesting. I think the world is an interesting place as is the past and the future. I am as willing to learn about ants in Borneo as astronauts in space. I would encourage my readers to pursue a goal of being smarter rather than looking smarter. Therefore, I suggest 5 ways to be smarter rather than to look smarter.
1. Read. Read books, articles, journals, and magazines on a variety of topics. Read fiction and nonfiction. The thoughts of the greatest thinkers of the past and present time throughout the world are preserved in books. I hear students claim all the time that they can’t concentrate when they read. They are too distracted. Their brains are not trained to focus on the written word except in short text or Twitter-like bursts. They are capable of reading, but they must put down their phones and video games and develop their minds to focus on what they are reading and to then to think about what they are reading. For those with difficult reading, I suggest listening to audio books.
2. Think critically. Think on purpose. Look at a topic or text or situation from multiple viewpoints. Look for explanations. Look for connections. Approach films, art, and written texts from a critical point of view. By this I do not mean you must criticize the text, but rather to explore the meaning, context, and purpose of a text. Concentrate on the text’s meaning. Ask questions of the text that move from simple comprehension to analysis. Make connections. Draw conclusions. Ask the kinds of questions that produce answers that will explain what the writer is talking about, why they are saying what they are saying, where and when they said it, and whether or not it is accurate, complete, or biased.
3. Don’t believe everything you are told. Question authority. Find out for yourself if what you are told is true. Research to verify whether what you’ve been told is accurate or complete or relevant. Determine whether the source is trustworthy. Decide for yourself whether or not to believe what others tell you. Find out what is true by researching and thinking about the ideas and issues raised by the text. Make your convictions your own, not something handed down to you or absorbed from those around you. I am willing to admit to my students that I don’t know everything and I’m willing to research and find out more about a topic about which I know nothing. If I am wrong about something I have said, I suggest we look it up and find the right answer.
4. Be curious. Learn something new every day. Don’t limit your interests to narrow categories. Observe every day actions, sights, events in new ways. Listen to what others are saying. We can learn from others. Discuss ideas with friends, family, coworkers, fellow students, neighbors. You do not have to agree, but it is good to understand why other people believe what they do. I have always said that everyone has a story to tell and I want to hear it. I tell my students that they represent a well of information. Each student has had experiences others have not had and all can learn from them. Each one knows things that others do not and they can share their knowledge. Any time I want to know something about a new topic, I look for books and articles on the subject. I ask others what they know about the topic. If I see an art work, I want to know all about the artist and their experiences and ideas that influenced their work. Learn to wonder why.
5. Make intelligent decisions. Decision-making is a process. Discover anything that can help you make an educated decision. Consider the consequences of each of your choices or actions. Consider the multiple possible outcomes for you and for others. Weigh the pros and cons of a choice. Sometimes there is no one right choice and no one wrong choice. If you make choice A, certain things will or may happen. If you choose choice B, then other things will occur. It may not be that one produces more positive or negative results. The results will only be different. Consider short and long term results of the decision. Examine your facts for overlooked information that could alter your decision. Ask for advice from various people you trust and perhaps some people you do not trust to get more than one point of view and then weigh the advice you receive. My husband has a friend who always sees the negative in every topic or idea. My husband knows that he will always advise against whatever he discusses with him and that is why he talks to him. He wants to hear what he has to say because he may see a negative consequence or point that my husband has overlooked or dismissed. This helps him make better decisions.
If you want to be smarter, rather than just look smarter, begin to read, to think, to question, to be curious, and to make intelligent decisions. On the other hand, if all you care about is looking smarter, I have provided the titles of several articles that will advise you how to do that.

Just be glad you have a job.

Just be glad you have a job.

I have a job. It’s not bad, as jobs go. In fact, most people would be happy to have a job that is not difficult and pays enough to get by, even if it isn’t what they always wanted to do. Outside of adjuncting, I have that kind of job. I get 40 hours of pay and benefts. What more could you want?

A lot, it turns out. I spent a long time getting my doctorate, too long, really, and I financed the whole thing with loans. My professors told me it wouldn’t be so bad. I’d get a job and then I’d start paying the loan back based on my income. After all, that’s what they did.

The realities of the academic job market didn’t really hit me until I was, to my mind, too far in to quit. Still, I thought I would at least get a community college or lecturer position if the Holy Grail of the tenure track job was not to be obtained. And, I didn’t think of it as settling, either. My original goal was to get a job that would allow me to engage with students and others on writing while giving me the time to write. Even if I was not going into the “publish or perish” realm, I figured I’d still be able to write and I would enjoy being immersed in literature. But a full time job teaching at a college was not to be had. I dove headfirst into what is commonly referred to as “adjunct hell,” teaching six to eight classes per semester—sometimes more—while tutoring for extra money, all with no benefits. In some areas, eight classes could mean $28,000 before taxes. But in Texas, that only got me around $16,000. There is no pay for about five months out of the year unless you are lucky enough to get a summer class or a fast paced class between semesters. Such classes are few and far between. This makes budgeting tough, especially when you can never be sure you will get those eight classes. Adjuncts are expendable.

So when I had the opportunity to get take a full time job, even thought it was not my ideal job, I took it. The benefits allowed me to go to the doctor and find out that I had breast cancer. It was caught early, and so it was not nearly the problem it could have been. Without the benefits, I might have let the symptoms go for much longer. That is why I have to buy into the old saying, “be glad you have a job.”

However, it flies in the face of what I was taught to expect from myself and from education. People always used to say, as long as you get an education, everything will be fine; you will always be able to find a job. They never said there was a law of diminishing returns. Working harder doesn’t always pay off. A different saying goes, “If hard work made you rich, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.”

It’s hard for me to accept just “being glad.” I wanted more and I expected more. I feel like I am on that proverbial rat wheel, running as fast as I can to stay in the same place. At least, as an adjunct, I used to be.  Now, with a full time job and benefits, I’m just walking. And I’m still in the same place.

Should I just give up and stay here? Is there a better place to go? I don’t know which way to turn, and my experience has taught me that my efforts are mostly fruitless.  I guess I should just be glad I have a job.

The Unbearable Weight of Exhaustion

Nearly every teacher or professor I know is chronically exhausted, particularly the adjunct. In order to eat regularly, pay the bills on time (mostly), and buy fuel for the clunker, adjuncts must work all the time. Consider that we are paid by the class, and that our fairly pathetic income from each class is not guaranteed from semester to semester. We depend on the kindness of strangers, those bean counters in the school system. This is not to lay blame or create anger against the tenured or full-time, or the “so-overworked-I-don’t-know-how-they-do-it” public school teachers; it is merely a fact, and it is deplorable.

Consider this:

First, one must start as soon as possible to grub for classes for the next semester before the previous one is half finished. This means keeping track of available hours, how many campuses it will take to bring in enough cash, drive time and expenses, how many new course preps one can take on, what the school’s expectations are as far as adjunct participation in school affairs, time to sleep (never enough), and how am I going to eat this damn burrito in the car on the way to my next gig which is across town in rush hour traffic. And it would be nice if someone actually appreciated the fact that I have a PhD and doesn’t treat me in a way that indicates adjunct equals lesser being. Are we tired yet? Well, yes. And we’ve only just begun.

The teaching itself is, for me at least, energizing. I generally like my students, and I believe that one can have fun (yes, fun) while learning. It is the grading that comes after the classes that is so soul-draining. Paper after paper after paper demonstrate that something is very wrong with the way we teach kids or the way they learn. There’s a huge disconnect between what goes on in class and what comes out of a student brain in a paper. It’s as if the essays are not even written by the same people you just interacted with. And the little decisions that a prof has to make to keep head above water: grade online and ruin my eyes or grade on paper and kill trees? Offer revisions or tell them to suck it up? Go over the same thing again and hope they get it this time or pass them on to the next class ( I think there’s a lot of this going on; by the way). Are we tired yet? Oh, yeah. We already were.

An amazing thing happened to me this past month. I had some down time. It has been years since I had any time off other than the occasional three-day holiday weekend. I had such plans. I had so many projects. After a week, I almost even felt rested. Then I tanked. A crushing exhaustion smacked me upside the head, and I could do nothing except sleep. Oh, I managed to fix meals and do errands and occasionally go out for coffee, but that was all I could handle. It was as if I had been storing my tiredness, and my body was just waiting for a time when it could finally let go. So, I’ve slept for over a week. Hours and hours. I didn’t realize that I’d forgotten what it felt like to not have insomnia, to not try to grab those few hours and maybe a nap to keep functioning. It was what I did – part of the deal of being a precariat. Eight or nine hours in a row was a fantasy.

Classes are gearing up again, soon. For many of us, our schedules, which change every semester, will be different. We will be back on the road, back in front of a stack of papers, back to dealing with student complaints over the tiniest things. Back to nagging supervisors who are just as tired as we are. Back trying to remember which class we are due at today and on which campuses. Because some days it is campuses, plural. Gearing up, girding our loins, waving our pens in front of us, fighting back ignorance any way that we can.

And we do the best we can, for ourselves and our students. We could do so much better if the powers that be would listen to us. Are we tired yet? You bet we are.

Pup Wrangling and Teaching Are a Lot Alike

My household has fairly recently acquired two enormous pups. We did not know they were hiding their enormity when we agreed to rescue them. They tricked us. They are gallumphing engines of destruction, totally lovable and totally frustrating at the same time. Kinda like freshmen. And also clueless like freshmen, too. Training them takes strength, the patience of Job (who, by the way, was hella more patient than I would ever have been), and a certain degree of Zen-like calm (which I have never had; meditation makes me itchy). At any rate, before my analogy stretches so far it breaks, I will here offer you my thesis: freshmen need to be trained, too. In fact, they first need to be untrained before you can do anything with them.

Most college newbies are enrolling in a college or university right out of high school where they have learned some extraordinarily bad habits and have become adept at practicing those habits. I admire high school teachers. I could not do what they do. Most of them are dedicated to their kids and work very hard for damn little pay. However, the modern high school curriculum seems to be the opposite of rigorous, and I’m basing this on years of teaching History, Lit, Humanities, and English to scores of kids right out of the secondary school system.

Students stop getting reinforcement for grammar by middle school. They seldom get past the five-paragraph essay format. They do not know how to do research except by the point and click method, using websites. They are not readers (except for posts on social media and texts), so they don’t encounter enough good writing to absorb what it looks and feels like. Because they don’t read much that has ever seen an editor’s pen, they cannot spell or punctuate, either. Moreover, once they do get to college, most of their professors do not have the time to teach them writing, so they put up with what they get. It all falls on the overburdened shoulders of the English/Composition professor. We do what we can, but it is damn near impossible to teach good writing practice when you have to slog through grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors that students should have mastered already. On top of all that (and those shoulders are sagging now) is placed the ESL factor, which is neither the student or the professor’s fault, but there it is. You’re in an English class; you write in English. Well, I confess that some of the native English speakers don’t seem to write in English, either.

My solution to this (and it is one that many of my fellow profs agree with) is a separate grammar, spelling, etc. class BEFORE they take the first semester of English, yet I have seen no schools jumping at the chance to initiate this kind of class. For some reason, ESL classes just don’t seem to do it. I also strongly argue in favor of having students read more than they write for the first semester – and not only read, but tangle with the classics. They need to encounter texts that encourage them to ask questions. And if they don’t want to read at home, they get to do it in class. Aloud. Then they discuss what they’ve just finished. It’s re-training, and it’s important. One absolutely will not be a good writer if one does not read and think critically.

Critical thinking, ahhh yes. But that’s for another post.


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