Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Hill Retires

Luther College English professor Gerald Hill announced his retirement earlier today. "The sun wasn't up yet when I dropped off the letter to the Dean," Hill said, on the steps of Tangerine, one of his latte haunts.
Hill's teaching career began in 1975, as a grade 7 Language Arts teacher in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. "It was a great school," he said, over his latte at Tangerine. "I could have stayed there and retired 10 years ago."
But he stayed only two, then part of a third, thinking that with his Permanent Professional certificate he'd get a job down in Calgary, where he'd taken his B.Ed. What he did get was the notion to teach in Papua New Guinea, as a CUSO volunteer, from 1978-1980. "I could have stayed there too," he says, "and taken a contract job for big money and retired 15 years ago."
When his writing career kicked in, Hill taught around it: as a sub in Nelson (1981-82) while he studied writing at DTUC, as a maternity leave replacement at an alternative school in Regina (1982-83) once he'd set up his first writing home, as an Adult Ed drop-in Literacy instructor in Saskatoon (1983-84) after he'd met his future wife, the Saskatoon-based theatre artist Ruth Smillie, at a writing retreat in Fort San, and as an Adult Education teacher in Edmonton (1984-8). "That's enough for one sentence!" Hill says, wiping the latte foam from his lips.
As a matter of fact, teaching did feel as if it were a sentence by that time. "I wanted to more closely align my teaching and writing interests," is how he put it this morning, breaking off a piece of peach-pair scone. That meant post-secondary; that meant grad degree.
By 1993, with a new Master's and an all-but-dissertation PhD in English from UAlberta, Hill had been teaching first-year English for a couple of years. "The plan was, I'd finish the PhD and get a job somewhere and move the family there." That plan ended with the marriage. Hill taught for a year or two at Red Deer College and then, in 1995, "When my ex got a job at the Arts Board in Regina, I got one too, at Luther as a Sessional Instructor, so we could continue to co-parent our young family." 
In 2001 he won his tenure-track job, the one from which he's just retired.
"Man, good latte," Hill said, as the darkness lifted this morning.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Grading of Christmas Essays Completed

Thanks to a latte at Atlantis, I finished the last essay an hour ago. Six words, was the assignment. Pick six words, follow them into your personal material, see what you see.
Students need help doing this. Any connection between writing and joy has nearly vanished, but an assignment like this one gives it a chance, that was my idea anyway.
A few writers ran with it--for some reason, I think of horses--and seemed to feel frisky. After all or before all, the writer who turns down the road into his/her own stories doesn't have to run far. A few follow-up assignments would kick things along even further.
All that's left to grade: final exams.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Playlist for Grading Christmas Essays, continued

My Christmas fav is playing: Dawn Upshaw and Chanticleer, "Spanish Carol". If I had a dog, I'd name her that right now. Or Soprano, after Upshaw running the show, ringing the highest bells.
One thing about final exams is that students do them briskly. (Of course, nothing I say about students applies to all.) As writers, they seem less inclined to take extra steps--into the open field of the question posed, their professor hopes. That's enough, let's move on, they say.
Everybody understands.
Dark clouds known as "grades and grading" can't decide to leave. When they do, I would like to speak again of these writers. 

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Playlist for Grading Christmas Essays

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel—We Covered This in September”

“I Wonder as You Wander”

“Rejoice and Be Merry, They’re Done”

“Angels from the Reams of Glory”

“Mess, I, uh”

“In the Bleak Midparagraph”

“Ouch Tannenbaum”

“Allegro Morto”

“It Came Upon the Midnight, Unclear”

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

This Has To Be Fast Because Gumbo's Coming

How to prepare for the final exam:
Think of the exam as a writing performance.
Think about what we've said and done in class.
Think about your own experience as a writer in this class (not to be taken as chance to praise or condemn your professor).
Re-read the Birkerts essays. How do you relate to them?
Think about how this class would respond to your next page of expository writing.
Read your own essays. How do they read?
View all handouts. Why were they handed out?
Get a good night's sleep.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

So Exam Time Has Rolled Around Again

Recent readers of this blog--a dark evening to you, Uncle Buster and Aunt Pete--have been clamouring to hear my ideas for the final exams. Hush-hush about exams of course but I'll give you a hint, as soon as I get one.
It's tough to overestimate the power of final exam. I like to tease my students, telling them to take care of my class first, the others later. I'd love to see engagement with their last assignment, in one class, which asks them to revise their work from an earlier assignment.
But let's see. On the exams they will have to produce writing; it has to be about writing, more than answers.
I want them to put their language to work at the levels of word, sentence, punctuation.
I want them to stop themselves long enough to think about their choices.
I'll differentiate types of questions by the writing tasks they evoke.
I'll try to, anyway.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014


I prefer entries in this blog to those on T or F because here the place is mine, which is not the reason I begin this way.
I was going to write about a slab of concrete I had to pull around with synthetic yellow rope that kept snapping--my class today, I mean. Everybody's tired, but so what. All that drove them was sheer bull-headedness, to do that last assignment and get that grade. I think they could do more. 
So, I'll try this:
I ask them to write a simple sentence, simple as can be. Then we add a word or two between subject and verb, a word or to before. We build story and sentence at the same time.
Or this:
They design a class for Friday. General parameters: something useful on language grounds. Make it happen.
They might have to step out of their skin.