2014, Archives, November 2014, The MFA Years


This month I finished my pedagogy course. As I’ve stated previously, we began this class online over the summer so that we’d be better grounded in our teaching when we began. Once we got here, we continued meeting weekly for 1 ½ hours (rather than the standard 3 hours). Each class opened with a discussion of how our teaching was going, what was working and what wasn’t, and we were able to give each other feedback and advice. Then we would discuss our week’s readings and explore how they applied to the classroom.

The class is taught by Sarah Stanley, who oversees writing instruction at Alaska-Fairbanks. She is brilliant when it comes to rhetoric and theory, and is incredibly supportive in our teaching efforts. Her assignments are well suited to professional development. For instance, our final project was a roundtable discussion open to the public on the various ideas we studied over the course of the semester. My group discussed the relationship between the composition classroom and the notion of global citizenship, while the other group presented a semester-long writing curriculum with food as the overarching theme. Sarah encourages us to submit our roundtables as proposals to the Pacific Rim Conference in Anchorage next spring, and I’m really hoping my group gets on board with that.

I have learnt more this semester about teaching than I could have imagined. I’m wrapping things up with my students this semester—I can’t believe they’re not going to be my students much longer!—and envisioning how I’m going to approach the course next semester. I’ll be teaching first-year comp once again next semester. I had the option of proposing a second-year writing course, but I want to continue refining my first-year course. However, I plan to submit a proposal for next fall.

In Fairbanks, the day grows or shrinks by about 50 minutes per week. Although the change is steady all year, for some reason the shift feels most dramatic in November (and, I’m guessing, in May). It’s 9:00 a.m. as I write this and it’s still dark out. I say this knowing that it will freak some people out. But I want to be honest about the place. Here’s the thing, though: you adapt. First off, like I said, the change is gradual; you’re not suddenly plunged into darkness. Second, even on the shortest day of the year, we have a few hours of sunlight. (Fairbanks is a fair bit south of the Arctic Circle.) Third, and most importantly, you do adapt. I have a rare circadian-rhythm disorder (I’m not afraid to say this here, since you can easily find this out if you google my name), and I was deeply concerned about my ability to adapt to the ever-shifting days and nights. So far, I’m doing pretty well. I’ve had a couple of hiccups here and there, but no more dramatic or disconcerting than I might experience in Minneapolis, over 20 degrees south of here. And in a mere three weeks, the days will lengthen once again.

I get that this sort of thing can be hard. But I came to grad school to be stretched, to test my limits, to grow. And I think I’m in the perfect environment to do so. If you absolutely detest the very sight of snow, if the thought of wearing a sweater makes you sick to the stomach, then yes, you wouldn’t like it here. But I’d challenge you to consider where the limits of your tolerances lie. When I applied to grad school (a whopping 14 schools), I took a really broad approach to where I applied, putting myself in both more familiar and less familiar environments. In the end, I accepted at perhaps the least familiar environment of all, and I think I’ve benefited far more than if I had studied in more recognizable environs.

Speaking of being stretched, it’s the home stretch with the semester for me. Even though my pedagogy class is done, I still have two more classes to finish up, plus the course I’m teaching. Then I will have four weeks off, when I plan to write, read for my comps, play video games, and socialize with my classmates. That last one I’m looking forward to the most. On Thanksgiving we had a fantastic potluck with over twenty guests. It was a great time to get to know each other better. And it was a reminder of how close-knit and supportive my program is. I get the impression that these relationships will last beyond my stay here.

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