Showing posts with label teaching. Show all posts
Showing posts with label teaching. Show all posts

May 01, 2008

Teaching Nature Writing - Part 3

The nature-writing class had its final exam today (i.e., turned in portfolios) at the Cactus Flower, a Pueblo restaurant whose main recommendation is its large dining room -- no waiting. (Seriously, the red chile sauce is good if you order the "hot" strength. Almost New Mexico quality.)

The students -- who have been blogging here -- gave me a homemade farewell card. Thanks, guys, now you have me feeling all Mr. Chips-ish. But I am still going to grade the portfolios as I would have done sans card.

And then on to new adventures.

January 03, 2008

Dust Pneumony

Continuing to find books for the nature-writing class, I decided to give them a selection from Timothy Egan's The Worst HardTime.

The Dust Bowl of the 1930s ("the nation's worst prolonged environmental disaster") pretty well centered on the southeast corner of Colorado. I have used some of Donald Worster's excellent Dust Bowl in class before, but Egan follows a small, memorable set of characters from the agricultural prosperity of the World War I years through the subsequent collapse of grain prices, the regional economy, and the land itself.

Is the Dust Bowl is simply disappearing from the popular consciousness? Maybe we should watch The Plow that Broke the Plains as well. Netflix has it. And then go out to the national grasslands and think about blizzards of dirt that lasted for days.

My mother's family, in Colorado Springs, was slightly removed from the worst of the Dust Bowl, although my grandfather's furniture store went bust in the late 1930s, since furniture purchases are among the first to be postponed when times are hard.

Earlier, my grandparents had run a general store in the High Plains town of Arriba, but they luckily sold out before the big collapse of prices and population.

My father, meanwhile, was growing up in Tulsa, where, he said, "There was no Depression" -- or at least that is how he remembered it from a teenaged perspective.

Reading Egan's book in bed last month, I turned out the light, lay back on my pillow, and started coughing. It was persistent cough--something irritating the airway that would not shake loose. Pretty soon I was imagining "dust pneumonia."
I got that dust pneumony, pneumony in my lung,
I got the dust pneumony, pneumony in my lung,
An' I'm a-gonna sing this dust pneumony song.

June 10, 2007

The Pre-Conference Assessment

I almost have my conference panel presentation ready. On the other hand, I know that our time slot is at six in the morning following the drunken barbeque bash. So why I am bothering? I could just go in there and say to the three other panelists and a bunch of empty chairs, "Some students like to write blog posts while others see it as a distraction from the 'real writing' that they will be graded on. Draw your own conclusions."

And then I would crawl into my coffee cup until it was time to go to the airport.

May 01, 2007

'Final Exam' at the Cactus Flower

The semester ends in a mixture of exhaustion, graduation parties, uncertainties, new jobs, and everyone saying, "Now I get to read the books that I want to read."

The nature-writing class met today for its final exam, which meant turning portfolios and reading the menu at the Cactus Flower restaurant in north Pueblo.

Here they are, by their blogging handles, starting at top left: [1st photo] RFaithHughes, Shelly, michellew, K, Frank Oteri

[2nd photo] April Maes, meg_nicholle, Sara M. Kelly, Holly Beth, J. Ben Manzanares

[3rd photo] Juliana, Kati Rice. Not shown: JPH.

A great group, and I wish them all possible success.

January 22, 2007

Teaching Nature Writing - Part 2

As I mentioned, this blog started out as a nature-writing class blog--a group blog--and it is about to become one again for the next three months.

So please welcome a dozen or so new voices whose perspectives definitely will not be always the same as mine.

I will try to train them to always put in hyperlinks where possible.

January 13, 2007

Teaching nature writing - Part 1

This blog started as a class blog for English 325, "Nature Writing in the West." The class is on a three-semester rotation, so if you were to look at entries for spring 2004 and fall 2005, you would see some student-written entries.

It only became my individual blog when at the end of spring semester 2004 I hated to see it die and kept on writing my own contributions during that summer.

In some cases, however, as student "team members" were added and dropped and the blog was republished after template changes, my name ended up on some of the entries that they wrote. No matter.

Now I am working on the syllabus for another semester. That is a two-glasses-of-wine job at the least. I hate writing syllabi (and grant proposals and book proposals) but, unfortunately, I cannot always just go into the classroom and extemporize brilliantly.

It's a Tuesday-Thursday class, 90 minutes each time. That means I see the students only 28 times, plus a field trip or two. With so many students having job and/or childcare responsibilities, additional times are a problem. Maybe this year I could do something over spring break—but M. and I like to flee the area during spring break ourselves.

And there is so much to do. Familiarize students with a group of writers of whom most of them have never heard. (Gary Snyder or Deidre Elliott or Reg Saner or SueEllen Campbell or Ken Lamberton or whoever.)

Toss out new words like "ecocriticism" and "bioregionalism" and the famous Lynn White, Jr., essay that blamed our environmental crisis on the Judeo-Christian-Marxist matrix.

Talk about historical events like the Dust Bowl, which happened literally just down the road in SE Colorado, but which is forgotten in popular consciousness of most people younger than my parents' generation. Or about how the Forest Service's recreation program got started just outside of Pueblo, partly to counteract leftwing organizers in the old CF&I steel mill.

I look at nature writing as a type of creative nonfiction mixed with contemporary literature, but it is more than that. It is philosophy in the classical sense ("How shall we live?"). It is self-discovery ("What ecological and geographical factors led to my living where I do?"). It is history—the Dust Bowl, for instance,
as I mentioned.

It is also my favorite class to teach.