Faye Rapoport DesPres

It’s been a busy fall

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 5.28.33 PMAs you can probably tell by the lack of lengthy posts on this blog over the past few months, I’ve had a busy fall. In addition to my usual freelance work (maintaining social media accounts and writing/editing/blog research for various clients), I’ve been teaching several courses at Lasell College: Freshman Composition, Memoir and the Personal Essay (a literature course), and an independent study in Creative Nonfiction Writing. I’ve also been mentoring a wonderful student who is writing a senior capstone project in fiction.

This is my fifth semester teaching at Lasell (I previously taught at Framingham State University for one semester), and I have yet to teach a course that I’ve taught before. Well, technically I’ve taught Freshman Composition before, but each time, so far, I’ve completely re-designed the course. What this means is that I can’t simply pull up an old syllabus for each course and use lesson plans I’ve used before; at the beginning of each semester I’ve had to create new syllabi. Each week I then do (or review) readings for the classes and think through/create lesson plans. Then, of course, there’s the grading — I have seven students in my literature course and seventeen in Writing 1, and each of those classes requires four written essays and one in-class mid-term exam over the course of the semester. Meanwhile, my lovely independent study student and my fiction student send me work to review almost every week.

Whew. It’s a lot. Being an adjunct instructor is also difficult, because although adjunct instructors work hard, they don’t receive anything close, in most cases, to the compensation a full-time professor receives…and they don’t get any benefits. This is why many adjuncts are protesting the current state of adjunct instruction at campuses nationwide. Some are even attempting to unionize in an effort to improve the compensation at certain campuses. I certainly applaud their efforts. In my case, I can only teach as an adjunct because I have a husband whose job provides us both with health insurance. Sometimes, I admit, it’s hard and I’m tired. But there are three basic reasons why I do it.

Reason number one: the students. I’ve come to realize that there will always be students who are bored by a class, especially a required course, and maybe even some who downright hate the material. There’s not a lot I can do for them except give them the opportunity to learn what I teach and let them decide what to do with that opportunity. But there are a lot of students who genuinely want to learn something, and even if writing isn’t their strength and they’re required to take the course, they’re willing to open their minds and try to learn to write. They make the connection between reading and writing skills and success, whether that success is at college or in their future lives and careers. Having a voice means having power. Writing can mean having a voice. So these students try. They read, they ask questions, they do their assignments, and at the end of the semester they walk away with SOMETHING…some knowledge that is going to help them next semester, next year, or in the next phase of their lives. It’s pretty rewarding to think you might be helping students gain a skill that can so positively affect them. And of course, there are also the literature and creative writing students whose interest and creativity and enthusiasm can blow you away. I learn as much from them as they learn from me. They are a source of inspiration — their ideas, their effort, their curiosity. My independent study student cares so much about her writing, it’s inspiring. As for my fiction student? I couldn’t think of a better way to end each teaching week than our one-hour meetings, which are full of ideas, banter, and enthusiasm. And her work? Her work! Watching her blossom into the writer she is becoming is an honor and a privilege.

Reason number two: me. I’m pretty passionate about writing and literature, and teaching gives me an opportunity to read more, think more, and, by creating lessons that teach students, learn more myself. It’s an opportunity to immerse myself in things that I love, even when they’re hard or I’m tired or I make mistakes. My own writing has improved immensely because I’ve had to perfect my own grammar and improve my knowledge of literary techniques in order to teach those concepts to others. I’ve also had students uncover meaning in a literary piece that I never picked up on myself.

Reason number three: Becky Kennedy, Ph.D., who directs the Humanities Department at Lasell College. I don’t know if I have ever met a more gracious, giving, generous, thoughtful, intelligent human being. Becky gives me the freedom to develop courses and reading lists that work for me. She offers help and suggestions whenever I need them, but doesn’t overwhelm me with directives or requirements. She trusts. She supports. She creates opportunities where few would exist on other campuses. She never treats me as “less than” simply because I’m not a full-time professor. In fact, I have never felt looked down upon by any of the faculty members I’ve met at Lasell.

So, for those three reasons, I’ve been busy teaching at Lasell this fall. And although it’s worth it, like I said, I admit I’m pretty tired.

I’ve only written one new essay in the past few months, and it’s a short one (but one I really worked on). It’s out there now in the submission world, and we’ll see what happens. I have another essay, a lengthier one, that received a strong positive response from the one journal I submitted it to, although they didn’t publish it. I know I need to send that piece out again so it finds the right audience (when you get a rare hand-written note complimenting your work from a well-known journal, it feels almost as good as an acceptance). I just haven’t had the time.

Sometimes life gets in the way of pushing full speed ahead with your writing. But the writing is always there…just hanging around in your head until the end of the semester as the ideas form, and as the keyboard at the old computer in the corner waits.

What is that phrase Arnold Schwarzenegger said?

“I’ll be back.”

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