Understanding Beginner’s Anxiety, or Why My Neighbors Hate Me Now

by Carrie Lee O’Dell

Every Wednesday night for the past seven weeks, I’ve gone to a small studio space in a repurposed warehouse close to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for group violin lessons. Along with eight other people, I try to coax sounds out of my instrument without calling to mind the sound of a disgruntled cat. Sometimes, I’m successful. Often I’m not. This is, of course, frustrating. It’s also fun and challenging. It makes me use parts of my brain that haven’t gotten much exercise in recent years. When I manage to drag my bow across a string with just the right pressure, it sounds beautiful, which is immensely satisfying. I’ve learned more than just some scales and a short simple song in this class, though. It’s reminded me of the experience of being a student, of learning something from scratch. When you teach something you’ve always been fairly confident doing, it’s important to have the occasional reminder of what it’s like to not know.

Of course, my experience of choosing to take a group music class is hardly a perfect allegory for my students’ experiences in college writing. I sought this class out; many college students look for ways to avoid freshman comp. The stakes are low if I don’t do well—failure to master an instrument that by all accounts I’m picking up nearly forty years too late will not keep me from getting into my desired course of study or prevent me from graduating. I’m not being presented with new rules and restrictions on something I thought I’d already learned. The worst thing that can happen to me is public embarrassment at the recital. The recital that’s open to the public, is a few days away, and will be filmed for Bantam Studios archives. The recital that I’ve invited friends, some of them audio professionals, to attend.

Just a moment. I have to take some really deep breaths. Continue reading

The Acrimonious Acronyms of Education

by Patricia Haefeli

It’s a peculiar time to be a public school teacher. I have just spent the better part of the last ten months “teaching to the test” as they say (all the while encouraging us not to say it) because I had no other sane choice.

In April, I paced fretfully as my ELA classes sat for the LAL section of the Big, Bad NJ ASK state test. My colleagues and I feel enormous pressure to ensure that our (read: our student’s) scores make AYP so that the DOE lifts the “Focus School” designation, which will force a hasty retreat by the ever-present RAC team.

Then, just as we all heaved a sigh of relief at having that behind us, we were reminded that our students still had to take a combination of four MCU tests; one covering the final unit, and the other three representing a “post-test” administered to see if we (teachers) met our SGO’s this year. Tiered with a variety of growth percentages associated with the myriad ability levels in a single classroom (thank you, NCLB), the final Excel spreadsheet analysis requires a level of mathematical wizardry that make my English teacher’s eyes twitch with anxiety. The final numbers will inform our SGPs, which are linked to our educator codes, which become part of our final evaluations, which tie directly to our continued enjoyment of gainful employment.

Continue reading

Multimodal Composition Assignments (Jason Palmeri)

In Fall 2015, Jason Palmeri (Director of Composition, Miami U) led a Professional Development workshop for us on “Moving Beyond the Page: Designing and Assessing Multimodal Composition Assignments.”

For those who could not attend, Jason has kindly shared the presentation that he used, which is available here:


There are other useful materials at the site, including samples of student work and links to tech resources.

Thanks, Jason!