Professor Writer

Talking to Myself

I’m on a perpetual loop during final grading. Here’s a good example.

(If you read this and worry that I could be suffering from split personalities-

Us, too.)

Conscience: Maybe we should let them turn in those assignments they didn’t turn in.

Rationality: Why? We didn’t give the other students that kind of leniency.

Conscience: But the other students didn’t have a major crisis and a medical emergency all while grieving for the loss of three loved ones.

Rationality: Yeah… about that- don’t you ever think it’s a little strange that these problems only come to light in the last week of classes?

Conscience: They must have been too scared/down/unwell to tell us.

Rationality: OR.

Conscience: ?

Rationality: OR they’re making it up to get extensions.

Conscience: (gasps) How can you be so cold? You think they would make up major illnesses and a dead grandparent?

Rationality: It happens all the time.

Conscience: I can’t believe we’re related.

Rationality: Just imagine it. They thought we were a big softie, laid on the puppy dog eyes, gave us a sob story, and BOOM- they go from a D to a C.

Conscience: … It really happens?

Rationality: ALL. THE. TIME.

Conscience: Oh… but what if they really were in the hospital and grieving, and we just shrug?

Rationality: Then we just… uh… wait…



Conscience: Maybe we should let them turn in those assignments they didn’t turn in.

Professor Writer

Asspresser and Chipmunks: Our Kind of Breakfast

Marrying someone who is not a native speaker of English might seem like a surprising choice for an English teacher.

I’ve gotten the “do you bring your work home with you?” joke before.

First off- rude.

Second, I do what I like. I like English. Therefore, I English it up.

I like teaching. I’m not sure I could stop if I tried.

I lecture in the shower.

And I super-like Husband.

Anyway, there are advantages to loving a language and marrying someone who is in the learning stages of it.

I’ve read the articles about “keeping things fresh” and “using date night to find a common topic and reconnect,” and they all sound swell. In our experience, though, when things are getting repetitive, all we need is a commercial with an unusual word/phrase in it.

He asks me to explain it.

I give definitions and examples.

He brings the clipboard and asks me to write it down.

He diagrams it.

We both end up searching for linguistic explanations for why English is doing this quirky thing it’s doing.

Repeat in a few days when new vocabulary/wording strikes again.

And we do not get tired- over eight years of marriage, now.

What people sometimes forget is that Husband came here willingly. He wanted to be in America and learn English. He studied English in Korea, and one of his visas was a student visa- when we met, in fact. He might still be figuring this English thing out, but we’re both technically English majors.

It’s our kind of fun.

The other advantage is the stories. Sometimes it’s the way the language works that gets tangled, and sometimes it’s just pronunciation, but it is often hilarious.  

Like the time he tried to order an “asspresser” at the coffeeshop, and I thought a barista was going to slap him.

Or the time I was craving donuts- he grabbed his keys, and asked, while standing in the doorway,

Husband: Do you want the hushpuppy kind? 
Me: Hushpuppy? What kind of donut is that?
Husband: The ones from food lion. Creamy crispy.
Me: …. krispy kreme?
Husband: Of course. Do you want glazed from dunkin donuts? Or chipmunks?
Me: …..munchkins?

There was no real danger here- it’s not like I could be dissatisfied with any kind of donut. Or forest animal.

When Husband wanted to take a walk with me:
Husband: We need the… uh… (starts Google translating).
Me: Romance? Quality time? Exercise?
Husband (holds out phone for me to read): “Photosynthesis.”

Google Translate is like our hilarious roommate.

And, sometimes, not knowing the vocabulary makes us extra creative.

Husband trying to warn me when he rolled the giant yoga ball downstairs.

I have so. many. stories.

We will never run out of things to talk about. English contains infinite quirks.

We make lasting, meaningful memories just from trying to order at a drive through speaker.

I really don’t know how people who speak the same language keep things interesting. They’re at a surprising disadvantage in my book.



Professor Writer

End of Semester Teacher Thoughts

This is a joke. I embellished. And I laughed.

I wish students knew-

Student: Oh, so you mean it’s like (says something that shows she totally gets it).

Teacher thought: OHMYGOSH this teaching thing works!

Student: I did all the work in the group project. They did NOTHING.

Teacher thought: that’s most likely because you bossed the other group members around and didn’t let them make any decisions.

Student: Would it be okay if I just used the History channel as my source?

Teacher thought: No, but that would’ve been awesome.

Student: I’m really disappointed in the way you graded my paper.

Teacher thought: Really? ‘Cause the memory of that paper’s been keeping me up at night.

Student: I can’t read that because of my beliefs.

Teacher thought: How do you know…?

Student: I did everything you said to do on my rough draft. Why is my grade so low?

Teacher thought: I told you to start over. You changed paragraph 2.

Student: I’m in a tight spot- can I bring my dog to class?

Teacher thought: Against school policy, BUT I HOPE YOU DO IT ANYWAY.

Student (whispering to classmate): We never do anything in here.

Teacher thought (also whispered): Which would make the fact that you’re failing that much more spectacular.

Student: I bet you wish you could give US end of year evaluations like we give you.

Teacher thought: I have a blog.




Mama Professor Writer

Passing Down the Good Kind of Busy

My dear babies,

There’s a lot I don’t know (see previous blog posts for a good start), and I will continue trying to improve here and there.

But there is one thing I’m good at.

I don’t do “busy” without wonderful reasons.

I don’t say “yes” to all of the favors, invitations, and extra work. I look for ways to be more efficient instead of just more “there.”

And when I am busy, really and truly busy, it’s because I friggin’ love what I’m doing. I give my time to what I’m doing- like a present.

You will hear me grumble about grading papers. I will seem to disappear for days at a time to take care of the seemingly endless task.

It is this hard part that shows me how much I love teaching, though. Papers may crumple me, but never crush- and I usually emerge from the pile fresh, full of analysis, and ready to start swinging at new syllabus policies and future assignment sheets.

Then, there’s the writing, the planning, the collaborating. Mama will again seem to disappear for almost whole days at a time, as the projects try to swallow her up.

I will miss you. I will be tired. It will often be overwhelming.

And I wish the same for you, one day.

I dearly love my projects. I love losing myself in a subject.

I will always endeavor to make enough time for us. I will also try not to regret being really and truly passionate about something that isn’t always kid-related.  

My kind of busy means I spend my time with you, and I spend my time doing what I love. Everything else is elevator music and call waiting.

Your mama hopes you will spend your time wisely. Make yourselves not just busy but so, so happy. 

Love you always,


Professor Writer

Grading Papers a la Star Trek’s “Trouble with Tribbles”

The teacher settles down to grade her stack of papers with as much preparation as possible.

She has played on the internet for approximately 30 minutes, made tea, decided she couldn’t have tea without cookies, so she’d better bake some, made some more tea, and, having finally given up trying to dodge the unavoidable, settled in front of her computer with a plate of cookies and more tea.

She counts the number of files awaiting grading on the learning system.


She’s momentarily relieved.

That doesn’t sound so bad.

She starts the initial read through.

After a particularly difficult paper, she decides she deserves a break, any kind of break, and speedily clicks over into her email.

Where she finds 7 more paper files.

Three claim the learning system shut them out.

Two appear to have forgotten the existence of the learning system.

Two come with private messages about why these papers deserve this or that consideration when it comes to their low quality.

42 papers.

The teacher takes a deep breath, and reasons that by grading a dozen a day, she can still get them done in plenty of time.

Still, she gets up to restock the cookie plate.

When she settles back down, her laptop screen is flashing that she has new, incoming mail.

Six more files are waiting patiently in a row.

So, one third of an entire class saved their only promised 24-hour extension for this final research paper.

“Wise of them, really,” the teacher mutters as she takes a splashy sip from her shaking tea cup.

48 papers.

She goes to the kitchen for a paper towel to sop up sticky spilled tea. When she opens the cabinet, 8 more papers fall out.

The teacher swallows hard, scoops up the towels and papers, and heads out to check the mail-

Finding 12 more papers stuffed in the mailbox.

She gathers them up with her coupons and returns to the house.

As she puts her shoes away in the closet, she hears a disturbing sound, and looks up over the top shelf of baseball caps- as an avalanche of papers crashes around her head, spilling onto the floor around her feet.

The teacher frantically kneels to scoop them up, grumbling that they could have at least been stapled, when the doorbell rings.

She opens the front door to see a stack of papers from floor to the top of the doorframe.

She gapes.

It teeters.

Too late, the teacher tries to close the door, but the papers invade like a crashing wave, enveloping her as she’s swamped to the floor in layer after layer of crisp white copy covered in black type.

The teacher’s overwhelmed murmur floats up from below the mountain of essays.

“It’s not s’bad,” she slurs in a dizzy sort of voice. “A little every day. Just a little every day. That’ll get it done…”

The papers don’t answer.  

Professor Writer

The Wonderful Student- Who Did Nothing

It’s December 1st, and the semester is winding down. Wednesday will be the last day of regular classes before exams begin.

Around this time of year, we faculty members tend to huddle in little groups around our doors, in our offices, near the lounge and copier to talk for a quick minute (no one has longer to spare). We talk about our semester, finals, plans for the holidays. We occasionally share a little about a particular class.

There’s variety, mainly, but a strange phenomenon repeats itself.

Every year, from different teachers, in different subjects, I hear about yet another student who was bright, engaged, and wonderful in class- who is absolutely going to fail.

“They just never turned anything in,” the teachers say.

I’ve experienced it more than once, myself.

In the beginning:

A bright student comes to class having both read and understood the homework reading. He or she contributes actively to the class discussion, and is treated with respect by his/her classmates.

The other students want this student in their group for projects. Conversation droops during his or her rare absence.

A little later:

Me: I didn’t get your assignment. What could be the matter?

Student: (laughing) Oh, I must have forgot to turn that in. I’ll get it to you right away.

(Nothing ever comes.)

A little later:

Me: Since I’ve never received any of these assignments from you, even if your next assignments are perfect, you will be lucky to pass.

Student: Of course. So sorry about that. There will be nothing but perfection from now on.

And finally:

Me: (sends official notice that there’s no longer hope of passing the class.)

Student: (still shows up and does a wonderful job supporting his or her group members for the final presentation.)


I don’t know why it happens, but every teacher I know has experienced this student phenomenon in some form or another.

Some students linger in a teacher’s memory; They’re easy to remember, for this or that reason, but the wonderful students who did nothing have left a particular weight on my shoulders.

Maybe they were scared to show their written work.

Maybe they had something going on that deterred them.

Who knows?

They were like ghosts in the room- we perceived them, but they left no trace.


Professor Writer

There’s Something that Dislikes an Aspiring Writer

They’ll always look at you like you’re crazy.

You know that look your family gives each other when your Uncle so-and-so is ranting about conspiracy theories? Or that subject change we do when someone starts arrogantly claiming they know everything on a topic, and they look like they’re about to lecture on it?

New writers get those all the time.

There’s something about trying to write that brings out the skeptics- or even the judges.

Mention you’re working on something:

Watch for barely suppressed eye rolls.

The population that actually wants to hear about your ideas and your progress is like this big (I’m pinching my fingers really close together). Hold those supporters, those encouragers, close to your heart because bringing up your writing labors with just anyone often results in forced smiles and a subject change.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I get to work in English academia, where we’re expected to pursue writing (there’s still a lot of judgment for genre fiction, though- insert eye roll here).

I was also lucky enough to see that other writers get the same empty, barely-listening, can’t-wait-to-change-the-subject nods from friends and family. I’ve spent some years working in Writing Centers at a few schools. Many of my clients were older, returning students who had had time to develop their ideas. This was a familiar exchange:

Student (looking around to make sure no one can hear them): You know, Ms. T., I was thinking about writing a book one day.  

Me: Really? What about? Have you started it?

Student has a surprised pause, then launches into a detailed description of the storyline. Every character is developed. They know the beginning, middle, and end. They’ve written four chapters.

I would listen, and ask about their progress. There rarely was any after that initial talk.

It’s kind of hard to write when you get no support, no encouragement. From the way they poured out their ideas, like a confessional, I’m bound to think they’ve never had anyone to talk to about their writing, let alone encourage them in it.

So, I learned. There’s something in this world that dislikes an aspiring writer.

It has nothing to do with individual talent. How could it? No one has read the writer’s work, yet.

Are aspiring writers considered arrogant, maybe? Do we hold writing on a pedestal, and only expect shining geniuses to produce anything good? “How dare regular people think they can do it”?

I’m not sure why aspiring writers are shrugged off or looked down on, but I am sure it happens.

I mean this to be a bit hopeful. Now that we know it happens to everyone, we can lighten our burden of insecurities. It’s not because we’re bad writers that we’re doubted.

We’ll be doubted until we are no longer “aspiring” writers. Just keep going, and you’ll end up proving everyone wrong by default.

They should have believed in you in the first place. They had no reason not to.


Professor Writer

Conducting an Assignment Class

Sometimes you get the class where everyone is on the same page.

Sometimes you get the sensitive class that ripples with tension and grade anxiety.

Sometimes you get the zombie class that enjoys staring and only comes to consciousness for an occasional freak-out.

More often, you get a mix.

Therefore, giving an assignment, especially a major assignment, requires a lot of patience and skill from the teacher. It’s like conducting a symphony (I gather from cartoons), where each section of the teacher’s audience needs to be led in turn.

She approaches the podium.

She warms up the room by reminding everyone of today’s proceedings:

“Going Over the Final Project.”

The class stirs as they ready themselves for their parts.

The teacher brings the assignment sheet up on screen.

Cue the grade anxiety section:

“Worth HOW MUCH of our grade?!”

“FIVE pages!”

The teacher sends soothing hand motions and a reminder of the Writing Center’s existence towards the sweaty section, before poising her hand to scroll to the next part of the assignment. 

It pops on screen and is apparently the trigger which causes the zombie portion of the class to awaken and start a rare crescendo.

“Research papers? Problem-solution argument?”

“Did we go over that?”

“We never went over that!”

The portion of the class that has paid attention and maintained their blood pressure chimes in with a low, reassuring murmur-

“Yeah, we’ve been talking about it for two weeks.”

“Don’t worry- I’ve got the notes.”

“I’ll tell you about it at lunch.”

The general hubbub dies down, and the teacher moves on to the grand finale.

“Any questions?”

Grade Anxiety:

“How many pages?”

“Is that double-spaced?”

“’Will you read it, if we finish early?”


Teacher responds with more soothing hand motions and a quick point back up at the screen where every answer is (and has been for several moments) already up.

Students who get it pipe up with:

“Is there any chance for extra credit?”

The teacher shakes her head, but smiles at the much-needed humor in the middle of the otherwise dark tones.  

Zombie awakening students:



“…What’s a problem-solution argument?”

The teacher simply bows and reminds everyone that she has office hours later that afternoon.

The class respectfully withholds their applause.



Professor Writer

Office Hour Happy Hour (Dry Campus Version)

Today was super duper crazy. I put in about 11 hours between morning student conferences, a department meeting, pre-class grading frenzy, afternoon classes, and a long evening class. Now that it’s all done, I’m impressed with myself.

While I was in it, though, I just wanted to cross my arms and glare at things.

One dream that sustained me was of tomorrow’s office hours. Today might have been crazy, but tomorrow’s office hours are completely unscheduled. Here’s a list of all the wonderful things I intend to do during my four unscheduled office hours before Thanksgiving Break starts.

(Drum roll, please) I will:

-Spin around in my chair. It’s a particularly good spinny office chair.

-Place bets with colleagues about how many students will actually come in the day before break.

-Not grade papers. I might open my browser and purposefully look at some papers, just so I can officially shake my head and close the browser.

-Compose my email’s away message. Try to restrain my use of celebratory emojis.

-Read a chintzy novel (and pray a student comes in, so I can talk about it).

-Eat snacks.

-Doodle on my stacks of old assignment sheets.

-Does solitaire still come preloaded on computers?

-Google about solitaire.

-Pinterest search for funny comics.

-Feel slightly guilty about not using this precious time for professional development.

-Eat more snacks.  

-Invent a game called “Squirrel on the Courtyard Birdfeeder BINGO.” (I don’t know what it entails, but I bet I’ll rock it.)

I just can’t wait for tomorrow.


Professor Writer

Research Papers and an Existential Crisis: Can’t Have One Without the Other

I’m on the cusp of the research paper. This is usually where I rethink my entire pedagogy, and my life’s direction in general.

It’s important to focus on the positive. I have this problem every semester because we are coming from writing styles that are always so much better.

When my students write for a general audience, they are so good. They know how to inform, persuade, and entertain the audience. They’re lively and engaging.

Then, we whip out the academic research paper, and I watch them wilt right before my eyes.

I wish I could change this requirement. I’ve tried different methods- problem-solution arguments about local and relevant issues, ethnography of cultural niches, an informative portfolio project, and more.

The variety helps, but the real tricky part is the audience. It’s almost always a miss. Students need more time to learn about a specific, expert audience and their expectations. A couple of weeks and an annotated bibliography- never enough.

If only we could save the research papers for when students have had a chance to dive into a subject. Maybe after they’ve declared a major and taken some classes in it. Maybe after they’ve had a prerequisite of a certain number of classes in any subject, so they would already be somewhat informed and ready to write on a topic with a hint of authority.    

There are plenty of other writing strategies and methods to work on in the meantime. While we wait for the student to learn about their subject enough to write some semblance of academic research, the composition classroom could carry on just fine.

The epitome of writing prowess is not necessarily the research paper.

I think I will go reread some of my students’ op-ed assignments. I will need some good medicine to get me through research paper drafts. And snacks. I will need fattening, fattening snacks.