Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category

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Using “The Dad Voice” as a Rhetorical Tool: Day 8 as a T.A.

September 11, 2009
Me on the first of teaching 101. Honestly, are you going to give any lip to a guy who wears a skirt to class?

Me on the first of teaching 101. Honestly, are you going to give any lip to a guy who wears a skirt to class?

Posted by Rick

Today was the first day I had to use my “Dad Voice.” The classroom was getting a bit too chatty while I was trying to carry on my lesson. After a soft-spoken, “Guys?”, I barked out a “HEY!” It worked remarkably well. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m 51 years old, bald with a gray goatee and, I’m told, broad shoulders. Also, my natural facial expression tends toward the unhappy. Even when I smile, the corners of my mouth turn down.

In essence, I look like way more of a badass than I’ll ever be. The look has served me well over the years and kept me out of many a fight. Being able to add both the “Dad Voice” and “Dad Glare” to my repertoire has helped instill general classroom compliance

I imagine this can be a bit harder for some of the younger TAs — those who are barely 4 or 5 years older than their students, but this is one of those times in life when being old really does have its advantages.

Last semester, while still an undergrad, I had a chance to talk with Dan Cryer. I admitted to him my nervousness over teaching. He told me not to worry — They would take one look at me and know who was in charge.

It’s a little like spiders; they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.

But, I guess like spiders, if you don’t crush them, they can come back to bite you on the ass later.

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Teaching Engl 101, Class #7: The Sophomore Week Slump

September 9, 2009

Posted by Rick. (CF MFA) First semester TA

Some days you just get a little overconfident in your ability to teach a class. Or to prepare it. Or to speak in complete, coherent sentences. And just because you have a degree in English and, as a creative writer, have studied things like plot and character and setting, doesn’t mean you can teach it.

Today I had this great class planned. I had a couple of diagrams with circles and arrows relating to setting, situation, character, audience, purpose, and tone, and how they all come together in harmonic convergence and influence each other for the greater good of all mankind. The diagrams were stunning in their simplicity and simplistic in their stunningness.

Unfortunately, the rest of my lesson was not so much “stunning,” as “stunned.” Or maybe “stunted.” I found myself looking at the clock and longing for the end of class, or, barring that, a full-blown, instantaneous H1N1 outbreak.

And, no, I wasn’t drinking when I wrote the lesson plan. I’d thought about the bottle of Scotch in the cupboard (What Would Cheever Do?) and how good a nice couple of jiggers on ice would taste. But, no. I owed it to my students to give them the best education their parents’ money could buy at a state institution. So I kept sober.

But in the morning, when it came time to talk,  none of it made sense.  My carefully numbered index cards, while still technically in numerical order, were all over the board subject-wise and might as well have been covering subjects like Genetic Drift,  Euler Circuits, or the use of the 180° System in Cinema (all of which are index cards I still have from my undergrad days — I’m such a dork.) The students snoozed and I engaged in a little incessant blathering. Tonight I’ll be preparing for Friday’s class and you can bet I’ll be busting out the good stuff. (OK. Really it will be the $10 bottle of Highland Stag, but I am on a student budget after all.)

I’m wondering if the old adage “Write drunk. Revise Sober” will translate to this situation. Plan drunk. Teach sober?

I’ll let you know how that one works.

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Five Down: My first week and a half as a TA

September 3, 2009

by Rick Raab-Faber, CF

So here’s the sweet part of being in The Program. I’m getting paid to get a degree. The rub? I have to teach classes in freshman English. Me. The guy who, when standing up in front of the assembled 8 peers in my C&J class to read a paragraph I’d written, did not breathe the entire time and almost blacked out. The guy who nearly projectile vomits at the thought of public speaking. That guy. Yet, the powers that be in UNM’s English Dept. thought I could stand up in front of 20 or so kids who I knew would all be way hipper than me and would totally mock me for the poseur I am.

poserWorse yet, I agreed. I figured, what the hell. They know better than me, right? I mean they’re all PhDs and MFAs.

I started the first class by fessing up to my imminent apoplexy and kept on trucking. And I’ve done it for Five sessions now at eight o’clock in the morning and it’s gone well. I threw in a little writing exercise where the students had to write a paragraph describing me. They almost all used words like “Confident” and “Knowledgeable” and “Caring.” (Suckers! My evil plot is working.) Despite the ungodly — and I use that term in its most demonic sense — hour, the students are well-behaved and (mostly) alert. The two bits of advice people have given me have certainly paid off: “Remember that you know more than them” and “Always check your fly before class starts.”

That being said, I’ve really enjoyed it. Our orientation team was great and left us well-prepared. Plus I’ve got none of the slackers I’ve heard about in the afternoon classes. I could see myself doing this after graduation — in between writing my third novel and doing rewrites on the screen adaptation of my life story, of course.

The trick, it seems, is to remember we are here, as MFA students, to write. I guess I do envy the kids who don’t have to rely on a TAship to afford the program. Oh the things that I could do, I think to myself. But, like reading slush for Blue Mesa, or taking a lit class, immersing yourself in the teaching of writing opens up new ideas about the process of writing. In short, telling others how do do something makes it more concrete in my mind. And, oddly enough, I think you come away from each day’s class with this one thought, “Holy Crap! I really did learn something as an undergraduate!”

I’ll be interested in seeing how my time-management skills hold out. (As well as my enthusiasm for teaching!)