Last night, I had the honor of speaking at the Part-time Faculty Appreciation Dinner. The event was hosted by the CTLE and was a wonderful opportunity for adjuncts to network and to “talk shop.” Here is a copy of the speech I delivered.
By: Amye Archer
In second grade, Bobby Lewis caused our teacher to have a nervous breakdown.I was nine and her screams sounded like a siren in the dead of night.The girls in the class cried as the Principal paddled Bobby in front of us.I can’t remember what Bobby said that set her off, or what triggered her spontaneous madness.
In fourth grade, unable to stop me from talking, my teacher picked up my desk, dumped its contents on the floor in front of me, and threw the empty desk across the room.My father grounded me for a month.I have no memory of to whom I was speaking or what was so important that it just couldn’t wait.
In seventh grade, Jenna Beckwith and I walked once or twice a week to the small store across the street from our middle school and purchased a pack of Marlboro Reds for our social studies teacher.He sent the boys for booze, the girls for smokes.I can’t remember how he managed to pull this off.I can’t even remember his name.
In ninth grade, we learned we could leave at lunch and not return, explaining our absence the next day to our young, green, vice-principal by saying we had “female troubles.”I don’t know why we needed the extra time, who discovered this loophole, or how many times we used it.
During my senior year of high school, I was lost.I had transferred out of public schools and had been at Bishop Hannan for two years.I didn’t fit in.I wrote poetry, listened to John Lennon, and read Bukowski.I watched around me as my classmates, nestled warmly in the comfort of a better pedigree, walked forward into their future like the road had been paved for decades.Like they had the map of their life tattooed on the backs of their hands.I couldn’t commit to a college, I couldn’t commit to a path. But the clock was ticking and the forest thickened around me.The irony that I was a poet standing at two roads diverged was not lost on me.
Then, I met Anne Langan, my senior-year English teacher.Her classroom was number 214, at the end of the second floor hallway.At Hannon, we operated on semesters, so it wasn’t until the dead of winter that I first walked into her classroom.Over the course of a few weeks, we had the chance to do some creative writing.I wrote some poems, some short stories, and of course, lengthy papers on the role of women in Macbeth.Then, about halfway through the year, we were asked to write our own myth, in the tradition of the Greeks.I eagerly wrote mine after school.I think it took me an hour.
Every year, around this time, I ask my students to write a reflection regarding what they learned in my class.The reflections are kept anonymous, so the students can write how they truly feel without censoring themselves.This year, my first as the Writing Center Coordinator, I’ve decided to join them in this exercise and to write about the three things I’ve learned this semester.
1.Peer Review skills need to be modeled.Last month, I attended a workshop given by the CTLE’s Dr. Mary Goldschmidt. In this workshop, Mary gave me wonderful advice to help with my student’s peer reviewing skills.She suggested breaking my students into small groups, rather than pairs, and to join them in the review process.Taking her advice, I divided my class into groups of four and we held peer review sessions in which each student had a chance to read his/her paper out loud and to receive feedback from three peers, not one.But what really made this method work well was my presence at these meetings.With me guiding them, my students were able to discuss higher-level concerns like content, support for thesis and ideas, and organization, rather than just line-editing for one another.
In their reflections, my students raved about this method and highly recommended that I use it again next semester.My plan, however, is to change it up slightly by using this method for papers one and two, and then giving my students the reigns to run their own peer review groups on papers three and four.
You can see upcoming workshops offered by Dr. Mary Goldschmidt here.
2.Sometimes students need to know where the bull’s-eye lies.This semester, I decided to give my students a blueprint for good writing.Every single time I handed them an assignment sheet, I gave them a sample paper to accompany it.Then, as we discussed the assignment in class, I showed them more samples from books, journals, magazines, whatever I could get my hands on.I will admit that I used to be against showing my students sample papers.I felt that it might steer them in a direction they normally would not have traveled.However, that all changed when I was asked to write a guest column for my good friend’s literary magazine.
My friend asked for a column.No further description or instruction was given.I knew the magazine, had a pretty good idea of its audience, yet, I still really struggled to decipher exactly what my friend, the editor, expected of me.I asked for clarification.Instead of telling me what to write, he sent me a few samples of what others had written in the past.A light bulb clicked on and I wrote a column that was still entirely mine, still embodied my voice, and was exactly what my friend was looking for.I then realized that as a professional writer, I do this often.If I’m submitting to a magazine, I read the magazine first.Why not afford my students the same opportunity?
3.Students want to write better.Never has this been more evident to me as it is during the 20 hours a week I sit in my office, which is nestled next to the Writing Center.My proximity to the Writing Center affords me the opportunity to hear consultations in real time, and I often find myself smiling from ear to ear.The consultants working in the Writing Center are wonderful; some of the best writers on campus, but the students are really the stars in our center.Week after week, students return with rough drafts, outlines, revisions, and notes, willing to rework their papers, willing to listen, and really willing to improve their own writing skills. Students will work hard if they have someone pushing them to their potential, but they will work harder if they feel safe and confident. That’s what the Writing Center provides for our students, a safe place to grow.
Oh, and if you’ll allow me one more:
4. Apparently, Twitter is king. And no one, I mean no one, watches TV shows on an actual television anymore.
Last week, I was standing in my kitchen with the setting sun streaming through the windows, my hands wrinkled from twenty-minutes of washing dishes, and tears pouring from my cheeks and plunking down into the dishwater like rain.I was crying, really crying.I’m not talking about the silent whimpers that trickle from me while watching Titanic for the third time, I’m talking about genuine sobs; the kind that originates in the center of you and pull your heart out of your chest on their way up.
What was it that had me so upset?Revision.You see, weeks earlier I had sent my book off to my agent, confident that I had revised it for the last time.And I really, really thought I had.I spent weeks deleting, rewriting, and reshaping my book.I worked hard.I (sort of) neglected my children, missed a few meals, lived under piles of laundry, and fell completely behind on Boardwalk Empire.But when all was said and done, it was worth the sacrifice.I nailed it.I was in the clear.Publication was just around the corner, I was sure of it.
Then, on an ordinary Monday evening, the familiar DING! I’ve assigned to my agent’s email address yanked me from the dinner table and I dove for my phone.
I expected to read: I love it!I’m taking it out tomorrow to publishers.I love you!You are so talented, and you have great eyes.
Instead, I got: We are so close! But…
I was shattered.I stood in my kitchen with my hands in that soapy water and I just sobbed.Not because I had to rewrite the book again, but because I felt like a failure.As a writer, my very existence hangs on my ability to write and to sell this novel.I’ve dedicated my education to it, spent the better part of my daughter’s lives writing it, and promised my husband that our sacrifices would all be worth it.Now, I had nothing.No publication.No reward. Just that “but…”I hated that but.
Two days later in the Writing Center, I consulted with a student who had written a marvelous paper of which she was very proud.She beamed as she read it out loud and she had every right to swell with pride.The introduction was strong, the argument supported, and the organization was clear.But something was off.When I read the paper as a whole, it didn’t address the assignment.I chose my words carefully, as I always do with students.I asked her to interpret the assignment her instructor had given the class.I then asked her to tell me how her paper aligned with those instructions.She hesitated.She searched the paper. She looked at the ceiling.She scratched an imaginary itch on her left ear.“It doesn’t,” she said softly, “it doesn’t.”She was visibly shaken.She was defeated.It was as if she was the one with the tears in the dishwater and I was the big “but.”
As I explained the assignment and how she could address some of the larger issues, I was careful to point out all of the things she did well.This is a good paper, I assured her.You are a good writer.And I wasn’t lying.She was, by all accounts, a very talented student.She simply missed the mark on this assignment.She aimed left when the bull’s-eye was right.This misinterpretation of her assignment was not an indication of her abilities as a student.Just like my inability to properly construct a convincing arc for my protagonist’s best friend was not an indicator of my talent.We just needed to revise, to reshape, and to try again.The student left with tear-streaked cheeks and a much-improved paper, I’m sure of it.And that night I went home and began working on revision number 13,886 of my novel.
Revision does not equal failure.Revision is growth.I never understood those words more than when I became a novelist.My book has come so far from when I wrote the first draft.It’s a different book entirely.And with each draft, I learn and grow as a writer.I am more proud of my book today that I have ever been of anything.I pass this message along to my students, and it is a philosophy we hold dear in the Writing Center: The first draft is the creating, the shaping, and the imagining. The revision is where the real writing happens.
Bring us your creation. Call the Writing Center today at: 570-941-6147 or email@example.com
It’s near midnight on a rooftop in Brooklyn.The air is thick with midsummer heat and cars zipper left to right and right to left across the Williamsburg Bridge directly over my head.I am here visiting my sister who lives about a mile away in Greenpoint.Despite my exhaustion from the near thirty blocks we walked earlier in the day, and the push of my tender heels against my not-yet broken in sandals, I am here with a sweating glass of tap water in my hand, surrounded by my sister’s friends: a mix of Gen X’ers from various backgrounds all seemingly united by a common love for Game of Thrones.I sit apart from the crowd on a hard picnic-style bench and watch the underbellies of the cars above me.Josue, my sister’s friend, wanders over and sits next to me.We know one another tentatively, having met a handful of times, most recently at a reading I gave in Manhattan a few weeks earlier.
“I’m a big fan of your poetry,” Josue says loudly over the hum of the traffic hanging like a hammock over our heads.
“Oh, thanks,” I blush.I’ve never learned to take a compliment.
“No, I mean it,” he says, “Your reading at KGB was great.You were so funny.”
“Oh no,” I say modestly, “they were just a good crowd.”And they were.But you know what?I was good too.It was a great reading, the kind of reading where I had the crowd right there in my hands.They laughed in all of the right places, stayed quiet when I needed them to, and felt sadness in their hearts when the moment called for empathy.For a reader, it doesn’t get any better.For a writer, it doesn’t get any better.
“I could never read like that in front of people,” Josue muses.“How do you pick what you’re going to read?” he asks.
I’ve been asked this question before, as have many of my friends who’ve read their work in public.It’s something not a lot of people understand; our willingness and desire to stand in front of a crowd and share ourselves in a very private and intense way.If you’ve never done it, it’s sometimes hard to comprehend. Therefore, I usually give some kind of generic answer and move on.But Josue is a good guy, and he seems genuinely interested in my process.
“The secret,” I tell him, “is to bring a lot of diverse stuff to read.I read something I think will work, and if it doesn’t, I adjust.”
“So you read the crowd?” he asks.
I take a deep swig of my warm tap water and answer, “Exactly.But it’s more than that.It’s writing with an intended audience in mind.As I’m writing, I can almost imagine the crowd and how they’re going to react to the material.”
“But how do you read the crowd?How do you know?” he presses.
“It’s not an exact science, but I do my best to consider who they are.What age they are, what life experiences they may have had, what stage of life they’re in, stuff like that,” I answer.
Later, after we’ve gone home and I’m staring at the ceiling in my sister’s fourth floor pre-war apartment, I make a connection I have been searching for since I started teaching more than five years ago.As a creative writer, I do exactly what I ask my composition students to do all of the time:I consider my rhetorical situation.I think about my audience, my genre, and my purpose before I write or perform anything.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s taken me a long time and many wrong choices to get to this point.I’ve read spoken-word poetry full of pop culture references to a group of grandmothers at a library.I’ve read about Weight Watchers and baby weight, to rooms full of young, thin, teenagers who stared at me like I had two heads and one of them was on fire.I’ve made those mistakes, the mistakes of a beginning writer, the mistakes of a novice reader.So I adjusted.I changed my process.I learned how to evaluate the audience before I read, but more importantly, before I write.
To me, this is what the Writing Center in the CTLE provides for University of Scranton students:a place to experiment with voice, with genre, with audience, and with purpose. When I hear students reading papers aloud to consultants, I see the connections being made and the transformation taking shape. For all intents and purposes, the Writing Center consultants become those grandmothers sitting in the library, or the young, thin teens staring back. They become the test audience, the safety net, and the student’s soft place to fall.It is my hope that with practice, the students who use the Writing Center on a regular basis will learn to shift their writing to meet the needs of their audience.And that they will begin to build –brick by brick- the bridge between writer and reader, between audience and voice, between genre and purpose, and that their bridge will be as strong and as purposeful as the expansive sky way between Williamsburg and Manhattan lighting up rooftops in Brooklyn.
**The Writing Center is located in the CTLE (Loyola Science Center, room 588). Call today for an appointment: 570-941-6147**