End of One Semester, Beginning of Another: Writing Blues

The last few weeks have been pretty crazy for me; spring semester ended, which meant lots of grading and student questions. Summer semester began, which meant lots of curriculum prep and student questions. I have a hybrid class along with an online class this semester, so I'm really trying to experiment with some of my in-class presentations and activities to see what works best for my students. I'm teaching research methods again, which is always a lot of work because of the amount of writing (and thus, grading) that is inherently necessary. Add on top of that that I have 225 students (150 in my online class, 75 in the hybrid), so things can get hectic pretty quickly. 

There's a lot of debate going on in academia right now about adjunct teaching, most of it about how...well, bad it is (example 1, example 2, and example 3, just to name a few). Adjuncts are underpaid, under-appreciated, overworked, undervalued, etc. And I can't say I'd be thrilled to simply adjunct forever. But while I'm working on my dissertation, it's a perfect situation for me. I really wanted teaching experience before I graduated, which was not necessarily a guarantee in my program. Plus, I genuinely like teaching research methods (I know, I know). The experience of teaching students not just facts and figures, but actual skills, like how to conduct a real literature review, how to build support for an argument, how to conceptualize a methodology, and how to consider the implications of your work- it's hard work, but when it happens, it's really fantastic. Students who start the semester telling me they hate writing and don't want a career in research anyway come back to me and tell me how happy they are that they learned to actually write (and most of the students in my class are juniors or seniors and have been in at least a few writing-focused classes). Granted, it's not every student, or even most, but I think one of the most valuable lessons you learn in college is how to write well, and it's really your last opportunity to have someone critique your writing that's not your boss or someone you want to impress.

In a class where it's the professor's job to be subjective about your work, it can be very touchy. Unlike a multiple choice test or a class where every answer to each question should be the same (physics, most math classes, etc.), when you're grading a student's thoughts and words, there's something really personal about it. There's certain things- APA formatting, spelling, sentence structure, etc.- that are consistent markers, but grading how someone conveys an idea or how well they transition between thoughts is hard, and some students get understandably defensive about their work. One thing I've loved learning is how best to read someone's work and describe to them not how it's bad, but more how it can be made better. I find that students respond very well if you explain that their idea is sound (if it is, of course), but their message would be stronger if they did this or that. They all really want to be better writers, and I'm honored to be able to help some of them do that, if I can. Without a doubt, I've learned from my students as well and become a better writer by teaching. Here's to another semester!