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Posts Tagged ‘learning to write’

10 reasons that teaching is tough (but enjoyable)

In behavior, education, work on October 26, 2014 at 12:09 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Whew!

I’m now halfway through my first semester teaching at Pratt Institute, a small private college in Brooklyn focused on art, writing and design. My two classes, writing and blogging, one with 12 freshmen and the latter with four seniors. are going well and I’m loving the experience.

Pratt's library -- with one of the many sculptures dotting the campus

Pratt’s library — with one of the many sculptures dotting the campus

But it’s a marathon.

When I stepped back into those two classrooms, I hadn’t taught in 20 years. I’d read everything I could about millennials, and arrived fearful of finding a room filled with entitlement and attention spans lasting mere seconds — a challenge with a two-hour class.

Here’s a sobering and powerful insight into how tough it is to be a student!

For any thoughtful teacher, it’s a cringe-making look from the students’ seats, and gave me a lot to think about.

From the Washington Post:

Key Takeaway #1

Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.

I could not believe how tired I was after the first day. I literally sat down the entire day, except for walking to and from classes. We forget as teachers, because we are on our feet a lot – in front of the board, pacing as we speak, circling around the room to check on student work, sitting, standing, kneeling down to chat with a student as she works through a difficult problem…we move a lot.

But students move almost never. And never is exhausting. In every class for four long blocks, the expectation was for us to come in, take our seats, and sit down for the duration of the time. By the end of the day, I could not stop yawning and I was desperate to move or stretch. I couldn’t believe how alert my host student was, because it took a lot of conscious effort for me not to get up and start doing jumping jacks in the middle of Science just to keep my mind and body from slipping into oblivion after so many hours of sitting passively.

I was drained, and not in a good, long, productive-day kind of way.

 

Here are ten ways I find this work challenging:

Teaching demands self-confidence

It takes guts to stand before a room filled with dubious/tired/hungover/distracted/nervous students, hoping to forge useful intellectual and emotional connections with each of them and to foster a collegial atmosphere among them. As someone who was badly bullied in high school, I find it stressful to be looked at and listened to, so the very decision to teach means facing and conquering that fear each week.

You also have to really know your stuff! When a student challenges you, hard, are you ready and willing to discuss the question with the full confidence everyone else is watching you as you do so?

Teaching demands stamina

It takes sustained energy — physical, mental and emotional — to teach a 15-week semester with consistent enthusiasm. You might feel ill or have personal issues distracting you. I have a 90-minute driving commute just to reach campus, then climb four flights of stairs to reach my first classroom, lugging books, papers and computer. I bring a large thermos filled with tea, and was heartened to see that another professor I know has an equally stuffed tote bag, including her large thermos of tea!

Teaching demands self-control

This is a big one. When a student hits one of my buttons — if I feel they’re being disrespectful, for example — it’s a challenge to remain calm and even-tempered. They’re young. Some are very immature. It’s my job to set the tone and keep things cool.

"It's the one with he goats in front"...Pratt's deKalb Hall, built in 1955

“It’s the one with the goats in front”…Pratt’s deKalb Hall, built in 1955

Teaching demands self-awareness

Every week, interactions with students force me to reflect on my own emotions and sensitivities. I try to separate my feelings from my work, but it’s not always simple or easy. You have to strike a balance between being too friendly or too stiff. While I want to be warm and approachable, I don’t want to be someone they feel they can take advantage of.

Teaching demands exquisite attention to time management

This is a big one. I do set lesson plans, but also know that when things are going really well, it’s best to stay in the moment and enjoy it! I recently did a “rapid round” — asking each of my 12 students to share something surprising about themselves — and we did it four or five times. It took longer than I’d planned, but it was so much fun and we were learning a great deal.

Balancing the need to communicate enough timely specific material, while allowing enough room for students’ ideas and questions, is a challenge every single week.

Teaching means not taking anything personally

Another big one, at least for me. I grew up as an only child and have been working alone at home for the past eight years. I’m hardly feral, but I’m not someone who grew up with the rough-and-tumble of a large, close family, or has a collegial workplace where I can reality-check my experiences. Having other friends who are teaching to turn to for advice is extremely helpful!

Adjuncting — which leaves us wholly vulnerable to student evaluations for our ongoing employment, little contact with my dean and none with my fellow teachers — is lonely! I’ve leaned hard on others teaching writing as well, a friend in Tucson and another in Minneapolis, to help set me straight.

Teaching demands emotional openness and sensitivity

I don’t have children or nephews or nieces. and grew up in a family with little to no bandwidth for my own struggles, so facing students’ fears and worries is new for me. I’m glad when they feel comfortable enough to share those with me, but not always sure how (best) to respond. Parsing fear/bravado/anxiety in them is not easy.

 

Having written two books means I have some idea what I'm talking about!

Having written two books means I have some idea what I’m talking about!

Teaching demands a deep, broad knowledge of your material — and engaging students in it

I’ve been writing for a living since I was a college undergrad, and can both recall my initial nervousness about my career and my excitement as I realized I could make a living as a writer. I enjoy sharing my insight with those hungry for it.

But knowing how to make my knowledge comprehensible and immediately useful?

Teaching means trying to fully engage a room full of strangers

By definition, we each bring different forms of intelligence and learning styles to class. It’s daunting, indeed, to discover that some of my students also struggle with dyslexia, anxiety, depression. Some are bored. Some are lagging. Some are happy to speak out, while others sit there silently, no matter how many times I insist that class participation is essential to their grade. I also think students need to own their education, not sit back passively.

I have to work harder to find ways to not just drone on and get them excited and involved.

Teaching means being able to pivot — whether mid-class, mid-term or mid-conversation

I handed out mid-semester evaluation forms recently to get a sense for what’s working, and what’s not. It helped a great deal and I made changes to one syllabus as a result. But flying solo means having to figure it all out on the fly.

Fellow teachers — and professors — what do you find most challenging?

How do you address or resolve those challenges?

Thank you!

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, education, journalism, work on November 28, 2013 at 12:16 am

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s sometimes easy to forget that attention is a gift. We’re all busy, tired, distracted.

So when readers come to Broadside — for one post, or several – I know it’s a choice.

It’s been amazing and inspiring for me to “meet” people from around the world here, even just from reading your gravatars when you sign up to follow. Several of you have become good friends, from London to L.A.

Newest followers include a dancer/choreographer and playwright from Tel Aviv, a retired history teacher in Florida, a country singer from Nashville, and a suburban mum in Britain.

You are one seriously diverse audience!

I appreciate your comments, and especially so when you finally decide to join the conversation — I know many of you lurk, silently. Please weigh in!

London

London (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

It’s been a new privilege to start teaching and coaching, and the response has been terrific, with students coming from Australia, New Zealand, California, Virginia and other spots. Working with Skype is great, as we can see one another and exchange ideas and laughter. The other day, I waved to three small children in Adelaide as their mum and I were about to start a session. So fun!

Selfishly, coming back to teaching and coaching has also offered me a needed and welcome break from the usual routine of pitch/sell/write/revise. As a full-time writer, I’m an intellectual production line of one — the old brain gets tired!

It’s been great to leave my apartment, meet new clients face to face and begin to expand my teaching to other places. It looks like I might be teaching at NYSID, my former school of interior design in Manhattan. I really love teaching, and I’ve missed it. It’s fun to share my skills and help you meet your goals.

Writing well isn’t easy!

For some odd reason, people now think it is or should be or want it to be.

Great writing is really the end product of clear, focused thinking: about topic, tone, voice, diction, rhythm, intent, mood. It has many moving parts, and until they spin together without friction, you’re more likely to hear the nasty grinding of gears than the smooth humming you’d prefer.

So, dear readers, and those of you placing in your trust in my skills to teach and coach you, you’re very much appreciated.

Thank you!

Please sign up now for my webinars: reporting, essays, ideas and more

In blogging, books, business, education, journalism, Media, work on October 24, 2013 at 10:52 am

By Caitlin Kelly

CKELLY HIGH RES

I mentioned this here a while ago.

Now we’re ready to go!

As some of you already know, I’m an award-winning journalist who’s published two non-fiction books of national reporting and writes frequently for The New York Times. My work has appeared in publications in Canada, (Chatelaine, Flare, Toronto Life, Maisonneuve , etc.), the U.S., France, Ireland and New Zealand, including The Wall Street Journal, VSD, Marie Claire and Ladies Home Journal.

I’ve also taught journalism at Concordia University in Montreal, New York University, Pace University and The New York Times Student Journalism Institute. I also recently taught the first webinar here at Kristen Lamb’s online conference, WANACON.

I’m offering six webinars:

Think Like a Reporter

Finding and Developing Story Ideas

Growing Your Blog

Writing for A-List Editors

You, Inc: The Business of Freelancing 

Crafting The Personal Essay.

Each is 90 minutes in length, half of which is saved for your questions and comments.

They range in price from $100 to $200; details, prices, dates and sign-up are all here. After you’ve registered, I’ll email you each directly with the sign-in location for the webinar.

The first is Sunday November 3 at 4:00 pm. Eastern time. 

Finding and Developing Story Ideas will be helpful to anyone who’s freelancing, or hopes to. I’ll talk about which ideas are best suited to websites, newspapers, magazines or non-fiction books — sometimes all of these.

Three recent students say:

“By any metric, Caitlin soars as a teacher, especially her sincerity and kindness. Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Caitlin embodies that – with the experiences she can share, the skills she can teach, and lives she can change.”

– Amer Taleb

 

Caitlin is an exemplary mentor and teacher. She doesn’t just provide excellent training for the exacting standards and requirements of journalism and authorship, but shares her experience and knowledge readily, offering real, pertinent information and how to use it.

 

She invests herself in those she teaches, helping them to develop the wide array of skills and instincts they will need to succeed in any area.”

– Cadence Woodland

“I enjoyed Caitlin’s presentation very much. As a journalist with only a few years experience, I appreciated her willingness to share her expertise and experiential wisdom. She made herself available for questions afterwards, which was particularly helpful. Her experience was insightful. If you have a chance to take a class with her, don’t hesitate. Great value.”

– Lisa Hall-Wilson

If you have any questions, please email me at learntowritebetter@gmail.com

I hope you’ll sign up — and please spread the word!

Ten Ways To (Seriously) Improve Your Writing

In behavior, business, culture, entertainment, Media, Money, work on September 28, 2010 at 2:18 pm
Author Margaret Atwood attends a reading at Ed...

Margaret Atwood: "Put your bum in the chair!" Image via Wikipedia

It’s commonly said, (among writers who do it for their living), that blood to a surgeon is like rejection to a writer — a necessary part of every day’s work.

Whether a surgeon likes blood is irrelevant. Do professional writers — and ambitious amateurs — enjoy rejection? Irrelevant.

It’s not a game for delicate souls, whether you are paid for your work or hope to, or do not.

I’ve earned my living selling my writing since my sophomore year of college; here are ten issues professionals/ambitious writers take seriously:

1) Study writing. No, you don’t have to sign up to be an English major or get an MFA or try to get into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. But if you truly want to improve your work, you’ll put your bum in the chair (as Margaret Atwood told me when I asked her how to write) and put your work before the skilled, experienced eyes of a teacher. That might be a workshop, a writers’ group led by a professional, an on-line class. Great writing, like everything that’s excellent, demands discipline and some training.

2) Study with more than one teacher. Every writing teacher has his or her quirks and habits, and the worst students learn to mimic them in order to curry favor. Bad idea.

3) Know what you want to say. Simply emoting about your mean Dad or drunk Mom may feel terrific and be cathartic for you, but without adding clarity, insight and polish, it’s rarely sufficiently satisfying to your readers. What larger, ongoing, universal truth(s) do you also plan to elucidate?

4) It’s all about the reader. Not you. Not impressing your BFF or writing pals whose enthusiasm and support are lovely, but ultimately totally distracting. They are to a writer’s growth as a Mom’s cheering your soccer game are to a coach’s whistle, drills and experienced observations.

5) Who is your reader? Who do you want to read your material? Everyone. Bah! Think again. Car manuals and cellphone instructions and IKEA literature are written to appeal to “everyone.” Who’s your best reader? Do you crave the undivided attention of suburban moms? Ex-addicts? Current addicts? Fellow lovers of hummingbirds/hiking/sushi/petanque? Decide who you most want to grab by the lapels and write for them. Because not everyone is going to love your work. If they do, be very nervous. It’s not necessarily a good sign.

6) Read your work out loud. Yup. Your dog/cat/budgie won’t mind a bit.  Artists look at their paintings in a mirror to catch it from a different angle. Reading your words out loud immediately alerts you to their cadence, rhythm, alliteration. Do they sound good? Do you want to hear more?

7) Let it cool down. Baked goods removed from the oven and consumed too soon — before cooling into the finished product — shred, crumble and waste the energy you spent creating them. Good writing should wait a while before it’s consumed by anyone other than yourself. Great writing can wait even longer. Write something and put it aside for 20 minutes, two days, two months. It will always read better after distance and reflection because you’ll see its flaws and have the dispassion with which to fix them.

8) Criticism is key to success. You’ve got to put your work out there — for review, criticism, thoughtful replies. Your work must be read by serious and ambitious writers/teachers/agents/editors. Some of them will have the skill to offer helpful insights, (some of which may surprise you or make you uncomfortable), and the generosity to do so.

9) You are not your writing. Until or unless you can separate yourself from the most intimate and private thoughts you share publicly, you’re toast — because you’ll overly personalize even thoughtful-but-challenging comments on your work as an attack on you. Wrong! As one pro writer friend told me, when I had to revise 10 chapters (there are only 12!) of my new memoir: “You’re a mechanic. Fix the engine.”

10) Rejection is essential. For many reasons. It means you’re actually putting your work and ideas out into the intellectual marketplace. Picture a bustling farmers’ market. Is everyone selling the same amount as quickly? Probably not. They know, and hope for, the best — a percentage of their goods to sell. If they go home with an empty truck, score! But they are wise not to expect it because they, like many others, took the risk of working hard to grow it, truck it and put it out for sale. No farmer expects buyers to coo over the beauty of their rutabagas. They have nutured their products with much hard work — but are able to remember that they are selling a product.

I have sold two non-fiction books to two commercial publishers. (And written another four or five  full-length book proposals, circulated to many editors, that did not sell.) I’ve been through six agents, three of whom were very good, one of which — the final one — is truly excellent.

She’s very tough! We’ve even had shouting matches on the phone, as two hard-headed perfectionists hammer it out. Better to have so demanding an expert than some chatty, happy milquetoast who can’t sell my stuff.

Every day, these editors and the agents who put our work before them, are inundated with competitors. Both of my books were rejected by 25 others before they were bought. My agents kept on plugging because, as good agents do, they believed in the projects and in me.

What if  I’d just given up, in floods of weeping and teeth-gnashing despair, after the 11th or 14th — or second — rejection?

Here’s a great post on this subject. And another.

At ASJA Today, Professional Development Day — See You Tomorrow

In business, Media on April 23, 2010 at 7:40 am

Today is the annual conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, whose board meeting was yesterday — I’m on its board, along with a dozen others from all over the country, from a New York Times’ best-selling author from Virginia to an environmental writer from Florida to our president, who’s leading our good, endless fight against Google scanning our books — with no pay to us.

I’ll meet three new-to-me editors today, in a sort of speed dating kind of way, hoping to win assignments from them: two are from big national magazines and one website. Our group has almost 1400 members and I look forward every year to seeing old friends, some of whom I’ve featured here, whether Greg Breining, who writes about the outdoors in Minnesota or Maryn McKenna, whose terrifying new book Superbug is about MRSA. This year Greg was in charge of our mentoring program — for $50 you get 30 minutes with an accomplished writer to ask them anything you want; one of my former mentees, Lisa Palmer, is now too busy with work to attend!

If you’re ever looking for a place to make new friends, meet smart colleagues and learn a ton, consider joining us in Manhattan tomorrow at the Roosevelt Hotel or find us on-line.

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