MITESOL 2014 Best Presentation Award

I sometimes feel like a lunatic, working late hours on materials and lesson plans, trying new apps and programs that seem like they are bound to fail, and giving new ideas a shot in my classroom. Sometimes I’m wildly successful and other times I fall short. That’s how it works. I love trying new things, though, no matter how many times I fail. For me, it’s worth it to discover the key to my students’ interest and enthusiasm for what I’m teaching. I’m working for that moment when I find a portal from the boring to the captivating.

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One such portal for me and my students was Nearpod. Nearpod opened the door for me to see what was out there in terms of engaging students with their tablets and smartphones. I was able to take devices that were often forbidden in the language classroom and make them the medium through which we were learning. I tried multiple lessons in multiple classes and my students unanimously agreed that they wanted to continue using the app in class. I continued to explore its uses as an in-class tool and as a homework tool, by which students could remain engaged and tuned in to the course work while on the go.2015pagelogo

I presented on this topic at the 2014 MITESOL conference and was recently informed that I was awarded the MITESOL top presenter award. Additionally, I have been nominated to the 2016 TESOL International Best of Affiliates award. If I am a finalist for this prestigious award (meaning I was chosen from over 100 affiliate organizations), I will then be asked to present my work along with the 7 other finalists and be judged by a panel of my peers at the international TESOL convention.

That’s not at all terrifying, right?

Last year Michigan’s own Patrick T. Randolph won this international award. Congratulations, Patrick! I have had the pleasure of attending one of Patrick’s talks, and he is a phenomenal speaker who gives a dynamic presentation.

I would never put myself in the same category as Patrick, and I’m shocked to be representing Michigan in this capacity. I have submitted two proposals to TESOL this year, so hopefully I will be accepted to present regardless of how I fare in the affiliates competition. I hope to see you there!

A Slow Spring

The last four spring seasons have been difficult for me. Not because of the ridiculous work loads I have so often inflicted upon myself. Not because of deadlines and the tenuous nature of summer work in our field. Spring is hard for me because I have to hear my family daily reminding me of how much better the weather is at home. Living far north of my hometown has numerous (mostly political) advantages, but the weather will always make me homesick.

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A warmer, more carefree Courtney (circa 2006).

When I was just seven years old, my family took a May road trip to Yellowstone. I was so excited to see all of the exciting things my uncle had elaborately told me about. Bears, buffalo, geysers, and bubbling pits?! What could be more magical to a nature-obsessed child? When we got there, however, it was much cooler than it had been at home. I called my dad and he said that is was 80 degrees (F) in Lebanon. 80 degrees?! That was definitely shorts weather. I looked down at my jeans, burst into tears, and begged my family to never take another vacation.

Soaking up the unseasonably warm weather in London (I knew I was wrong to denounce vacations).

Soaking up the unseasonably warm weather in London (I knew I was wrong to denounce vacations).

Since then I have driven through Wyoming twice, both times in the process of moving to colder climates. My seven-year-old self would think I was quite foolish, and maybe I am. I distinctly recall feeling that I never had the opportunity to thaw out during my first summer in WA. The temperatures never went above 90, and they rarely reached that. MI summers are much warmer, more humid, and full of evil stinging and biting insects. WA’s magical climate and absence of mosquitoes makes it a tempting place to eventually settle down.

Enjoying the view from atop Kamiak Butte, one of the many choice hiking spots near Pullman, WA.

Enjoying the view from atop Kamiak Butte, one of the many choice hiking spots near Pullman, WA.

My resolution this year is to enjoy the spring for what it is. Not a mild summer, like it was in Missouri, but a season of hope. The cold remains, but the snow is gone. The clouds still hang over our heads most days, but the sun comes out and says hello when it feels like it. We know the long winter has come to an end and that the plants will come back to life soon. These days are just as important as the warm ones that will follow. I’m doing my best to enjoy them as well as I can.

MITESOL

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I just got back from a fabulous MITESOL experience. It is my first time attending and presenting at the Michigan Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages conference and I could not be happier. I met many interesting people, discovered how supportive a conference community can be, and felt invigorated in my teaching and my research. On top of the professional development, I also got to spend quality time with colleagues I adore. What more could a teacher ask for?

For those of you who attended my talk or were unable to attend, I have put a homework version of the Nearpod I presented here.

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 corpora), 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.