Why Creative Writing Students Are Cool: A List

1. One of my online creative writing students informed the class that she had visited a shaman at the end of the last term and that he had advised her to write more for her spiritual health.

2. At the end of my Tuesday morning class, a young man came up to my desk, shook my hand, and told me he was looking forward to the class.

3. When asked about favorite writers, one student replied, “I like Bukowski because he was a drunk and never edited his poems.”

4. My students use words like “macabre” and “plethora” and they use them correctly!

5. When taking attendance, one of my students informed me she wanted to be called “twin” because she has an identical twin sister.

6. Only in a creative writing class will you get questions about sex, drugs, cussing and mental illness when it comes to content. Only in creative writing will I say, “Go for it.”

Some of my creative writing students at the IMA’s 100 Acre Park.

7. Not one of my creative writing students has asked me “do I need the book?” (see previous post)

8. I have several students who admitted that they “liked to write poetry” the first day. Hallelujah!

9. Several of my students claimed that they were enrolled in creative writing because “they were good at it.” Whether this is true or not, isn’t particularly relevant. What is relevant is that they are coming to the class with a type of confidence that you don’t find in intro level classes.

10. Some of them were smiling before class began and they were still smiling after class was over.

Do I Really Have to Buy the Book?

Today marked my return to school after a two week break. Today also marked the first day I have felt halfway normal since New Years Eve. I managed to get up, shower, go to work, take the dog to the vet and (gasp) go workout. Watch out guys, I’m back.

But I digress.

I returned to my office to find my plant badly in need of water and also a boat load of emails. I don’t check email over break. I put up my out of office message on the day grades are due and I’m out. The emails were fairly mundane. There were several notifying me of various technical updates that had occurred over break, some messages about the Spring 2013 academic calendar that has apparently changed three times in 24 hours, and a lot of spam. Among these unassuming messages, were three emails from students. All of these emails came from students in the same class, English Composition online, and they all asked essentially the same question: Do I have to buy the book for this course?

Now, I understand textbooks are exorbitantly expensive. I don’t like it and I agree with students when they complain about how half of their financial aid goes towards said textbooks. That being said, this is an introductory writing course and its online. There are no face to face lectures, question/answer sessions or conferences. Online students certainly are welcome to come in and chat with me, but let’s face it, they don’t. Because there is no face to face contact, the textbook is even more important (in my opinion) in an online class than it would be in a traditional course.

The short answer? Yes, you need to buy the book.

My favorite one of these emails was from a young man who has apparently already completed English Composition one time but he received a B in the course, and he “really needs an A to get into his physical therapy program,” so he already went through the course without the textbook, but feels the need to “double check with me” about doing so again. I was tempted to reply with, “Well, Student X, perhaps if you buy the book this time it will give you that extra edge to get you that much needed A.” However, I showed restraint and simply gave him the only answer I can really give to an adult college student: “It is your choice.”

End of the Semester: Pros & Cons

I teach writing. I teach writing at the college level. These two statements could encompass a blog post all by themselves, but at the end of the Fall 2012 term, I find myself wanting only to focus on one part of my job: grading. I teach a variety of classes, so this term the “writing” includes research papers, literary analysis papers and creative writing portfolios. To sum up how this process has been going, I will quote myself as I responded to this post (courtesy of my friend, Sam) on Facebook:

Today in back-to-back newsfeed items:

“Man, my students really are blessing me this week. One just gave me a Christmas card that really touched me and let me know that I am doing something right in and out of the classroom. Humble”

and….

“Time to get out my student-beating stick.”

My comment:

As I read this post, I am knee deep in *research papers and I feel the constant push and pull of pride and despair.

This pretty much sums up the feelings I currently have and will continue to have throughout the next week as I move through the mountain of writing before me. And with this sentiment, I give you the pros and cons of grading college essays at the end of the term.

Pros

1. Improvement. This is a huge pro. Arguably, this is the best result of a final piece of writing. It’s not that it is an “A” paper or that it is “well written” or even that the student has stumbled across some insight that has never occurred to me. It is that they finally mastered APA formatting, or they wrote a killer thesis statement, or their poem finally came together or for the love of all things, they finally formatted their title page correctly. Hallelujah! 

2. Creativity. An interesting quote in the introduction, a piece of fiction inspired by an author they admire, a well crafted sentence or a research topic that resonates on a personal level. All of these make me happy.

3. Directions. This may seem obvious and even trivial, but writing that meets the word count, writing that correctly uses APA format, writing that contains a title page and reference page, writing that includes the correct number of sources, etc. Never underestimate the power of following a simple set of directions.

4. Eloquence. Beautiful sentences, vivid imagery, clearly organized paragraphs, thoughtful conclusions, grammatically correct sentences, no misspellings, the correct use of a semi-colon and a clearly worded thesis statement. 

Cons

1. Apologies. It is not a good omen to get a message from a student before reading their essay that apologizes for how terrible it is. Seriously?

2.  APA Format. Admittedly, I don’t like this type of formatting but it is a necessary evil. It is also the #2 reason why students lose points on their papers. If you’re not sure, LOOK IT UP.

3. Directions. Repetition? This is the #1 reason students lose points on their papers. Word count isn’t met, sources are not present, APA, etc. 

4. Sloppiness. This is not be confused with “poor writing.” Poor writing doesn’t anger me. Sloppiness does. Examples of sloppiness? Sentence fragments, misspellings, typos, missing words and sentences that don’t makes sense. 

5. Laziness. My number one example of this problem? I take the time to read and comment on rough drafts. I do this so that students have the benefit of revising their papers before submitting final drafts. However, if you choose not to read my comments and then turn in the same exact paper with the same exact errors? Well, let’s just say, your grade is going to reflect that choice. 

*In this comment I refer to research papers in particular, but this applies to all the writing I am grading this semester.