Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Call to Write

I shamelessly have appropriated the title of a wonderful writing text as my blog title. This text, which is NOT currently on the list of approved texts that I may choose for my writing class, underscores the ways in which we write and need to write--even though many of us feel we are not writers. It is this message that I hope to convey to my students this semester.

But, it doesn't appear that this semester will be marked with no crises. In fact, day one brought the first crisis. My early class begins at 8:00 a.m. Since I am by personal tendency a late riser, it will take me a bit of time until my body kicks into early-mode. Day one events in this section brought me to full attention. I began class as I usually do--taking attendance (noting a higher than usual number of day one no-shows); handing out syllabi; reviewing course expectations; indicating what materials are required of students. . .WAIT--is that a different textbook I see on every student's desk?

It would be! How did that happen? After about 30 seconds of personal panic--which includes me briefly entertaining that thought that maybe I will have to re-work the course (again)--I decide to break the awful news to the students. YOU ALL HAVE THE WRONG TEXTBOOK. When I ask if that's what the college bookstore sold them, they all mutely nod.

I then quickly review mentally the book ordering process. Oh, I remember. By late June, I had not gotten any inquiry from the writing coordinator as to which text I planned to use. So I sent her an email. Her response--I just put in an order for the texts you used last year. No problem, I thought. I like those texts and am happy to continue using them. The only explanation, then, for the wrong textbooks being ordered is that either the writing coordinator DIDN'T really know which texts I used OR the bookstore goofed. Whatever the reason, the students should be made whole in their purchases.

So I fired off an email to the bookstore, indicating which courses I taught, indicating the name of the correct textbooks, and that my students would be returning the wrong one so they could get the correct ones. Crisis averted--although it wreaks havoc on my course calendar.

Back to day one of class. After I go over the stuff that is (frankly) boring, but essential, I had the students working in small groups on an opening exercise. I ask students to write out a shopping list--that's what I said in the first section. By the time I had the second section, I had amended the instruction to say what I really intended--a grocery list. Then I ask students to come up with two ways to organize the list. The point of the exercise is to get them thinking about how they gather information and then organize it.

What is fun about this exercise is the ITEMS students put on the list. Well, this year a new item appeared on the list--condoms! I have long ago learned not to blanch when students say (or write) something that they think may shock or surprise me. Of course, since part of the point of the exercise is to see how they organize their lists, I asked the condom group their organizational pattern. Not surprisingly, this group had no organizational pattern. I think they were just titillated about the prospect of seeing how I would react that they forgot to organize.

A quick point of reference--other groups organized their lists alphabetically, or by perishables/non-perishables, or by food groups, or by solids/liquids. Yes, one group did use solids/liquids as their organization. Since they had bread on the list, I was curious where they placed that item. Um, they said, on liquids. I did have to laugh at that.

Well, the semester has begun. And I am hoping the textbook fiasco is the only major crisis. I have been teaching long enough, though, to know it might not be. But, crisis or no, I hope to inspire just one or two students to want to write and write well.


Lynne said...

Solids and liquids?! Bread is a liquid?
I so look forward to your classroom stories. You started my morning with a smile today!

Ginger said...

Yikes. The textbook snafu would have thrown me for a loop. You never know what's going to happen when you take your place in front of a class!

Anonymous said...

Great first day stories. Makes me glad that I'm not teaching college level courses anymore. Our librarian has been delivering books to me all week. Makes it easier.

Anonymous said...

When I write now I tend to write down my thoughts as they come out of my head, all jumbled up, and then reorganize them into some kind of, I hope, readable pattern. Thank God for computers that permit me to reposition a word or block of text. Your comment on organizing reminded me of a Time Management course I took years ago. The only thing I remember is making grocery lists, and organizing them into some sort of pattern.
Love, Father "C"
11:10 AM

Beverly said...

Oh my, tha'ts quite a start. I wonder what else they will have in mind to see your reaction.

The categorizing is interesting. Funny how our minds work so differently.

Beth said...

IF I organized my shopping list, and I most emphatically DO NOT (because I am not that organized), it would be by aisle in the grocery store. On the few occasions in the last 30 years when I have remembered to make a list I have wished that it had been organized by aisle. :-) I'm looking forward to all your classrooms stories!

Dog_geek said...

Liquid bread? Isn't that, like, beer?

NCmountainwoman said...

You must have really been taken aback to see that EVERYONE in the class had the wrong text.

I love the exercise in organization.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

The best way to organize your shopping list is in order of how you pass up and down the shelves. (An exercise in visualization). Of course, this depends on whether or not you visit the same store and begin in the same way to walk through the store.

Mauigirl said...

LOL, as a market researcher, we often have consumers organize products in groups. It's always interesting to hear their explanations!

BTW, I added you to my Google Reader as I've discovered I can keep up better that way! I've been away from here too long. Love the new look of your blog - but was almost afraid to mention it in case you responded (and you may still) "Uh, I changed it 8 months ago" and I'd be mortified. At any rate, I'm catching up now!

Ginnie said...

You have my praise...I can't imagine doing your job but I'm so glad that there are dedicated teachers, like you, out there.

JeanMac said...

All the best this year - nice to get that wrinkle taken care of right away:)