2014 Quarter Report

Some student, Jason, and I at our Origami Conversation Hour.

Some students, Jason, and I at our Origami Conversation Hour.

Wowza. This has been some year. To keep this manageable, I’ll just list some of the major events.

Conferences:

  • Accepted to Michigan Academy of Arts, Science, and Letters to present my work on the Green Golden Age of spinsters in American regionalist fiction in March (couldn’t attend due to scheduling conflicts).
  • Accepted to present a chapter of my thesis at the International Virginia Woolf Conference in Chicago this June.
  • Accepted to present on the use of contact zones to facilitate reading/writing instruction at the Great Lakes Conference on Teaching and Learning here at CMU in May.
  • Although technically not a conference, I presented some work on L2 writing feedback at a faculty meeting that my co-presenters and I plan to adapt into a conference presentation for MITESOL and TESOL next year.

Travel:

  • I’ve seen a good chunk of the mitten this year. Traverse City for my birthday, several trips to Grand Rapids for records/yarn, and many planned trips to the beach this summer.
  • Going home for a bit in April. I’ll get the chance to see friends and family and reconnect with the people I care about the most.
  • Chicago in June for the Woolf conference. This trip is extremely exciting for me. I’m going to spend the time attending the conference, touring museums, visiting sites I haven’t seen during my other trips to Chicago, and taking in the more intellectual side of the city.
  • My family is taking a trip to England and Wales this summer. My grandmother has kindly decided to fund this trip so we can enjoy some quality time together. She has spent very little time outside of Laclede county, so my grandmother is more excited about this trip than anything else in her life. I’m so happy for her. We’re touring the Raglan castle in Wales which is said to be where my Grandmother’s family came from.

Professional:

  • I’m now working on my M.A. TESOL at CMU. I’m trying to take two courses a semester until I graduate. I’m moving a little slower, but I think Clint and I should graduate at the same time.
  • Taking these classes is a little bit of a challenge, however, because I’m also working full-time in the ELI. I can balance the two, but it’s not a walk in the park. I keep telling myself, “You can do anything, even the most awful, unimaginable, stressful craziness for two years. It’s just two years.” I hope I’m right!
  • This is hard to categorize, but this year I feel like I’ve become exponentially better at teaching. I’m creating a large portion of my materials myself, I’m juggling three different levels successfully, and I’m experimenting with methods to find what works for me. I think my students are benefiting from my dedication, and I’m doing a much better job maintaining the standards my department holds. Language teaching is infinitely different from teaching composition or literature to native speakers. I’ve had to reinvent the wheel, but now it’s rolling smoothly.
  • This might seem silly, but I’m finally financially stable enough to buy a Macbook Pro. I used to be a strict Linux fangirl, but I’ve changed my ways (due to certain software restrictions and the ease of grading) and want something reliable that just works. I knew the iPhone would be a gateway drug!

Whew! I wonder what other incredible things will happen this year?

 

Change of Plans?

Moving to MI was not #1 on my list. I did not delight in the promise of long, miserable winters and economic uncertainty. However, now that I’m here, I can’t imagine that I could be this happy anywhere else. I’ve enjoyed gorgeous beaches, unbelievable fall colors, something called a muskeg, and the crisp bite of winter (already!) coming on. My town is small, but fully-featured, complete with a co-op, two French bakeries, a farmer’s market, and plenty of local food options. And I certainly can’t complain about the 10 cent bottle deposit.

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Ette loves running through the fallen leaves.

When I was offered the opportunity to teach a Women Writers class at SVSU, I thought my dreams had come true. This, I thought, was making it. Don’t get me or my use of the past tense wrong, this course is delightful. I’ve had some of my greatest teaching challenges and successes in this setting. I taught college freshman how to close read poetry (and they responded well to it.) I got football players to engage in critical discussions of Mrs. Dalloway. And it’s only midterm!

What has shocked me this semester, is how much joy I get from my CMU English Language Institute teaching. I am teaching a Grammar III class (which was initially terrifying) and a Integrated Skills (Listening/Speaking) II class. In these courses I can actually see student progress. Students are eager to learn English because that’s their primary mission in our program. They don’t think they’re above the classes I teach. They don’t resent me for making them talk to one another. They are genuinely excited to learn about American culture. They ask about grammatical quirks with genuine interest. They ask me questions that spark sincere and interesting cultural exchanges.

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The board is partially obscured by one of many balloons my students used to decorate the classroom for Teacher Day!

Now, this in no way takes away from my love of literature or the teaching of literature, but it opened my eyes to a different type of satisfaction I can get from my career. After a little investigating, I found that I could get a fully funded assistantship to help me get my M.A. TESOL here at CMU. If I get my M.A. TESOL (yes, another M.A.)  I will be able to get a career-level job right away. With the M.A. in English I already have, I only have the promise of struggling to piece together adjunct gigs without benefits, praying for work semester to semester. This sort of freelance-teaching is not sustainable for me. I need stability, some sense of permanent purpose. Not now, but at some point in the future I would like to be in a position that I could buy a car and a house. I want to have that option. I would like to have a reliable figure to offer when people ask me my annual income.  “I don’t know, it depends,” is becoming less and less acceptable. And why should I (or any other smart, invested educator working as an adjunct) have to live like that?

But it isn’t easy to leave behind your lifelong passion. One can’t suddenly shift gears without repercussions. For example, what will become of all of my research aspirations? Besides my love of education and passion for teaching, the promise of writing and publishing articles and presenting at conferences has been one of the biggest draws of the academy for me. I am very excited about the research TESOL scholars conduct (including but not limited to those using Corpus), but I have several articles and a thesis that I wanted to send out for publication this year. Now, I feel like those works that mean/meant so much to me will just collect dust like artifacts of a past life. Can a person teach in a TESOL program and publish literary criticism?  Can I somehow integrate the knowledge I’ve already acquired into my TESOL research by studying how literature can more effectively be integrated into the language-learning classroom? What about gender research and TESOL? Is that a thing? If I change my specialty to TESOL, I worry that all of the hard work I put toward women’s studies research will be for naught. Can I do both?

What’s more, how do I maintain a feminist identity in a classroom full of people from whom I have to hide this fact to avoid persecution? What fundamental parts of my self will be sacrificed in exchange for job stability and a different type of job satisfaction? Can I get the sort of intellectual excitement from books that I desire by just joining a book club? Will I lose that intellectual excitement if I stay away for too long? Am I definitely over-thinking this?

I would love to hear advice/responses from others on this. Of course, this decision is mine alone, but feedback helps me process these big decisions.

Trying on the Mitten: An Employment Saga

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Greetings from Michigan!

 

I am so very pleased to be writing this blog post, instead of the much sadder one I originally had drafted. Michigan’s economy might be as terrible as the media has led us to believe, and my previous post bemoaned the state of things for a young humanities grad (making it utterly redundant on the internet in 2013.) This blog post, however, is celebratory, grateful, and full of hope.

After applying for around 40 jobs between April and August (some academic, some clerical, some retail,) I was offered an underwhelming two interviews. To my credit, I was offered both of these jobs (and another for which I did not interview.) Let this be a cautionary tale for those of you entering the market: apply to every job you think you can live with.

My timeline went something like this:
April – Apply to jobs, defend thesis
May – Apply to jobs, graduate with M.A., begin teaching summer class
June – Apply to jobs, finish summer class, pack and move across the country
July – Apply to jobs, unpack, accrue debt furnishing new apartment
August – Apply to jobs, EVERYTHING HAPPENS

Early in August, when I had all but given up on teaching this semester, Saginaw Valley State University called me for an interview. Delighted, I interviewed for a Composition I course, but was then to my surprise, was offered either the Comp. I course or an extremely flexible course called “Thematic Approaches to Literature” from the literature faculty member who sat in on our interview. To my delight, I was encouraged to base the class off of the Women Writers course I shadowed this Spring. This position pays less, but will broaden my experience considerably.  This single class pays 1/6 of my T.A. salary, making my job search far from over. I cannot describe the strange feeling of achieving one of my greatest goals in life (teaching a Women Writers course of my very own,) but still searching for entry-level work elsewhere.

The second interview I received was from JC Penney. No, I did not plan on working in retail after earning my M.A., but JC Penney is a company I respect, and the managers and employees of this particular store are wonderful people. I love folding clothes and tidying spaces, so the work is natural and enjoyable for me. I work in Men’s and Kid’s, where I am able to use my skills of color coordination and flattery to my advantage. A 25% discount on professional attire certainly sweetened the deal. As much as I enjoyed the job, it still did not fill the gap I needed to make a comfortable wage. Looking for other flexible schedule jobs seemed daunting, and all of the work from home jobs I found sounded like scams. I had all but resigned myself to the underpaid struggle most Michiganders live with.

Five days into my employment with JCP and two days before college classes resume, I received an email from CMU’s English Language Institute asking if I was still available for part- or full-time employment with their intensive English program.  Naturally, I could not pass up this offer, and I graciously received two ELL courses I have never taught: Speaking and Listening (Level 2) and Grammar (Level 3.) As intimidating as this was, I was thrown into this last minute collection of adjuncts with instructors who had comparable experience/comfort with the courses assigned. Although scary, the sense of community makes the leap much more palatable.

In a matter of weeks I went from woefully unemployed to overwhelmingly over-employed. I hope to continue working at JCP while I teach, and am so excited about this new chapter in my professional life. I’ll write a separate blog post about the joys of each of these jobs in action soon, but for now this is a fairly comprehensive update on my life.

Lessons Learned in a Tortuous Job Search

I began searching for jobs in late February, as soon as I was certain of my next zip code. I applied to a handful of positions in my future town that perfectly fit the degree I was working toward. Adjunct Composition jobs are so stigmatized by some in the academy that we are led to believe that they are, in fact, easy to acquire. I assumed that I could just breeze into one of these jobs. It’s just an adjunct job, right? How wrong I was. Jobs are not plentiful right now and everyone is clamoring for them as desperately as you are. You have to stand out among an applicant pool with nearly identical qualifications.

I have learned volumes about applying for jobs during the course of my search and have volumes more to learn before I land that ideal job. Since I started my search, my cover letters have become more fine-tuned, my CV has become more transparent and informative, and my applications are not being thrown out immediately after I submit them. I am waiting to hear from nine employers at the moment and the delay can be excruciating. In the meantime, I’ve compiled a list of things that I think have helped and hurt me in my job search. Feel free to use this as a guide to help you start out a stronger applicant than I did.

Things that have worked against me in my job search (and how to combat them):

  • My youth
    • I am completely qualified on paper for many jobs that I will never get simply because I am too young. One glance at my CV and some quick math will tell potential employers that I’m only 24 and to them that translates to careless, green, and flighty. I am none of those things, but not everyone will take the time to find that out.
    • This isn’t something I can adjust in my CV, but I can respond to this concern in my cover letters by emphasizing my youthful passion and excitement for my work. I can highlight the positive side of youth and the energy that a candidate like me would bring to a workplace.
  • My recent graduation date
    • Nothing spells “inexperienced” quite like a 2013 graduation date. Yes, I have ample and impressive experience for my age and my position, but few employers want to take a chance by giving someone their first job out of college. Nevermind the teaching I did in and out of my M.A. program, this will still technically be my first “real” job out of my graduate program.
    • There’s no real way to work around this. I just have to hope for an employer who is willing to take a risk on me. I do, however, make sure to mention in my cover letters how recently coming from a graduate program makes me fresher and more up-to-date on pedagogical theories and practices.
  • My address
    • Some employers will not take the time to read applications from out-of-state applicants. They often assume that you are wildly applying to jobs across the nation hoping something will stick. Why hire someone who might not move to the job?
    • If you are in my situation and are applying to  jobs in a very small geographical area, be sure to mention that in your cover letter. I always begin with a casual “I recently acquired my Master’s of Arts in English Literature from Washington State University and will be moving to Mount Pleasant, MI this summer.” If you can, use your future address in your application materials.
  • Shooting too high
    • This is a sad point to make, but an important one. Don’t limit yourself only to jobs that spell out the highest degree you have. Having the required qualifications does not make you a good candidate for a job. Consider the market. Often hundreds of people in the area are as qualified or more qualified for the position than you. I recently applied for a  job in the small town I’m moving to in which 108 other applicants were notified of the position closing. 108! I knew that I was at the low-end of the requirements for this job, so I began branching out.
    • Look for jobs for which you might be not just a suitable candidate, but a stellar candidate. I was probably among the least qualified applicants for that job with 108 applicants, but I may be the most qualified applicant for a job that only requires a Bachelor’s or a high school diploma. Try to be someone’s star applicant.

Things that (I believe) have worked to my advantage in my job search:

  • Reliable transportation
    • For graduation, I got a 2009 Ford Focus from my grandma. This car gets great mileage, handles well, and gets me where I need to go safely. So long as she survives the drive from WA to MI, this car opens up my application possibilities considerably. I know that not everyone has a grandmother willing to buy them a reliable car, and for that I am very privileged.
    • If you have a car or can get one affordably, use this to your advantage. If I didn’t have a car, I would only be eligible to apply for 7/16 jobs I have currently applied for. This investment will pay off.
  • Diverse experience
    • The summer between my first and second years of my M.A. program I applied for an ESL teaching  job I found on a listserv. I was not traditionally qualified for this job, but the fact that they posted it on the WSU graduate student listserv only three weeks from the start date told me they might be willing to take a chance on me. I wrote a heartfelt cover letter that said something to the effect of “what I lack in experience I make up for in enthusiasm.” It’s a corny sentiment, but it made the difference between me and more qualified applicants who approached the job without the excitement I had. At the interview I demonstrated my passion and that was reflected in the administrators. They seemed as excited to give me the opportunity as I was to take it. I got the job, loved it, and was able to add five lines to my CV about the five distinct courses I taught in this program. My experience in that program got me the job I have now teaching ESL Composition at WSU. Now, I’m able to apply for ESL composition jobs, Intensive English jobs, and have a great foundation should I ever go back for a M.A. in TESOL.
    • Take every opportunity to volunteer, intern, or work in adjacent fields. The more diverse your experience, the more jobs you can justifiably apply for.

Of course, I am still unemployed so my advice is far from perfect. I just wanted to share some insights from someone currently in the throes of the application process for those of you who might soon be coming upon this momentous time yourselves. Best of luck to you, unless you happen to be applying in the Mount Pleasant, MI area. In that case, I do not wish to help you.

Courtney Elizabeth King M.A.

It isn’t a particularly impressive title, but I earned it.

Today I officially graduate with a Master’s of Arts in English Literature. I decided not to walk, so my closure comes from writing this blog post and exchanging blurry-eyed embraces with the dear friends I’ve made in this program. Washington State may not have been the perfect fit for me on paper, far from it, but I’ve grown more as an academic, as an educator, and as a person at this university than I believe I could have anywhere else.  The people here have been supportive and inspiring and I am ultimately thankful for this experience.

My single regret in coming here is born from the cynicism about the future of the humanities that runs rampant in our department. This has not worn well on me, and has caused me to spend many sleepless nights pondering my own worth. In departmental meetings, in the halls, and over coffee, my colleagues and I have engaged in endless conversations about how disposable our field, and by proxy, we are. I have not spoken with one of my cohort members who is completely certain that they made the right decision by getting this degree. Seeds of self-doubt and self-hatred have been planted not by people in the sciences or the media, but by our own mentors and friends.

I have fallen prey to this worrisome negativity just as much as the next graduate student. However, after much fretful consideration, my liberal arts background makes me certain that there will always be a place for the arts and humanities, although it may not be in the public university. I believe that the university as we know it will be completely restructured in the next 5-15 years and that people will be reintroduced to the joys of literature in new ways. Perhaps this will be through MOOCs or Google Hangout book clubs. Or, more likely, it will be through a new application of technology we have yet to discover. This is not a bad thing and it is far from a death knoll for what we do. It’s just a metamorphosis. Above all, we, the Literature instructors and professors, must advocate for our own field and not become victims to the rhetoric of our own impracticality. Being practically useful is not the only value in our world and we cannot risk forgetting that. After all, valuing beauty is what brought most of us to this field to begin with. Or have we forgotten that too?

Time makes even the brightest believer cynical. I realize that. As an 18 year-old freshman in college I was just as confident in my English major as I was my Political Science minor and my Environmental Studies minor. These three fields held equal weight to me. No one in the Oz that is Truman State would consider telling me that my major was impractical. In fact, I never heard the “You’ll never get a job” talk from any of my professors. They all seemed equally certain that I could become a professor just like them, and live an idyllic life at the Harvard of the Midwest or a comparable liberal arts school where teaching is valued over publications. I believed them. Soon after, I found out that there are no comparable schools. Our Princeton of the Prairie is unparalleled in its selectivity, value, and setting. Rural, publicly funded, secular liberal arts colleges are unfortunately not commonplace. Trumanites are very much in a bubble. A bubble in a wheat field.

WSU is also in a wheat field, but in a bubble we are not. The real world hits hard on this campus. In the short time I have been here, we have experienced a sinister wave of violence and unrest among students who consider college to be not a vital part of career preparation, but a roaring fun life stage.* Activism is not the norm here; apathy is. This attitude our students exude is reflected in us. We cannot help but absorb some of their disinterest in the academy and the literature we try so hard to promote. It is difficult not to lose our lustre. However, what we (hopefully still) have and what we can forever hold onto is our intellectual excitement. The joy we gain from books and from writing is what put us where we are. If we lose that, we have lost the battle. I refuse to give that up. I still read books for pleasure. In fact, the books I read for my classes bring me unmeasurable happiness. Writing my thesis was one of the most wonderfully fulfilling tasks I’ve accomplished yet. And yes, I still love Virginia and plan on rereading some of her work this summer. I refuse to give up on something I hold so very dear. It is too delightful to be profitable. But it is likewise too important to let die.

 

 

*For the record, I am not against having fun in college. I’m against the notion that every person should graduate from high school and go to college because it’s what Americans do. Go to college because it’s what you want to do.

Teaching Technologies and Android App Feature: AndroClass – Teacher Tablet ($9.99)

Since my last blog post I’ve found an app with which I can manage my class completely. I take attendance, record grades, assign groups using a random student generator, and make notes about class period goals all in one easy to navigate app called AndroClass. It’s available in a tablet app for $9.99 and a tablet compatible phone app for $5.

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The catch? The set up takes some time, patience, and willingness to play around with the interface. I was up to the challenge one afternoon and set the whole thing up in just a few hours. As long as you follow the well-explained format, you can import an entire class from a .csv file. You can include the students’ ID numbers, birthdays, special needs, etc. all at once. This is a major plus. Manually entering each student would be exhausting, but I simply downloaded a .csv file from my university’s course management website, made some adjustments to fit the program’s requirements, and voila! I had my class ready to go.

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I spent the beginning of a class period playing photo booth so I could have each of my students’ photos attached to their names in AndroClass. Now I can quiz myself on my students’ names and take attendance without yelling names and interrupting their work time. This is the quickest that I’ve learned a class’s names. Now when students come in for conferences early in the semester I will be able to pull up an overview of their progress with out asking “And what’s your name again?”

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The very best thing about this app is its developer. German developer Andreas Schilling and I have exchanged quite a few emails with my ill-informed questions. He responds very quickly with thorough and helpful answers. For a developer who has to answer questions in multiple languages from frantic instructors worldwide, I am very impressed. This is top-rate customer service.

Teaching Technologies and Android

As part of my technologies series I would like to discuss the apps I use on my Android tablet to make my life as a teacher easier and more enjoyable. I won’t mention apps for iPad users because I have no experience with Apple products. Plenty of more useful and extensive guides exist for iPad users. I will make a note of the applications that are cross-platform (available for iOS and Android devices) by marking them with an asterisk (*). What I look for in a good application:

  • Usability
  • Cost (preferably free)
  • Compatibility (with Word and other common programs)

As a graduate student, I don’ t have the luxury of buying extra programs on a whim, especially if I might find that they don’t serve my purposes. The multitude of free, high-quality apps to choose from in the Google Play store makes owning an Android tablet a dream for me. I will say that I usually download 3-6 apps that all do essentially the same thing, try them each out, and then uninstall the ones that were not up to par.

A few of my favorites:

1. Kingsoft Office (Free)

This application has been a game changer for me. My students submit all of their papers electronically into the cloud. From there I download their file onto my computer at home and then provide feedback through margin comments. Until recently, I was unable to do this on my tablet because it doesn’t support Microsoft Word. I tried Splashtop Streamer 2 as a remote desktop to solve this issue (see below) but this is an even easier to use and smoother option.

A dream come true.

2. Splashtop Streamer 2 (Free or $9.99/year)*

Splashtop Streamer is a remote desktop app. It allows me to access my home computer from my tablet on any wireless connection! This features costs around $10/year but if you primarily use your tablet and computer in the same place/same wireless connection you can use the free version.

Android users will delight to see this: Microsoft Word!

3. Mindjet (Free)*

This app works with Box.com and is fantastic for brainstorming. Have students create a mind map for their projects as an assignment directly in the Box.com interface, and upload it from there!

It’s even easier than pen and paper!

4. Box (Free)*

A nifty app to keep your Box.com files easily accessible.

Nifty!

Do you feel slighted because I forgot your pet app? Please, share them in the comments!