Next Steps—Teaching the SAT

Today I gave an audition lesson at the Princeton Review. It had to be non-academic, so I went with self-defense basics, and I had to use board work, so I drew a stick figure and we discussed targets. The lesson was only five minutes, but it went well–I got into the next stage of the hiring process, which is training. I did receive some constructive criticism, which is great–it was good that I asked questions in the beginning of the lesson, but the critique pointed out where I could have asked the “students” questions throughout the lesson. This will be something to be mindful of during the training.

I’ll be doing some online training and two full days of in-person training. I’m not worried about the intensity of these days because I’m used to residency now, which is a whole week of intense days. Even before that, I did a geology field school program for a month–four weeks of intense learning days. I do wish these training sessions for the Princeton Review were in Connecticut instead of New York, but that’s okay–I’ll read on the train!


One Week, Three Interviews


Earlier this week, I posted that I want to move more into the education space and get more interaction time with students, in a classroom if possible, or in a tutoring setting. Well, I got right to work setting things up.

SAT Instruction

I interviewed on Wednesday via Skype for the chance to become a trained SAT teacher/tutor. The conversation was brief, but there are a lot of steps to go yet. Next week, I will drive an hour to give a 5-minute audition lesson. Then, if I’m accepted to the next step, I have about 40 hours of training at that location, or in NYC 2.5 hours away.


On Thursday, I went to a local high school to meet with someone about tutoring opportunities. This is just one of many tutoring opportunities I’m exploring, but it’s the in-person one. It looks like there may be some opportunity here, especially as while I’d prefer to tutor in the humanities, I’m not turned off by math or science, either.

Substitute Teaching

Today I met with Kelly Staffing so that I can begin the process of getting hired. Where the SAT instruction job requires a lot of training, this one requires a ton of paperwork–not to mention getting fingerprinted for $87.00. But you know what? It’s worth it. Subbing is the best way to get some additional classroom time while allowing me to meet my TA duties this semester and my adjunct duties next semester.

Other Opportunities

So the last few days have been busy with interviews, but I don’t mind. I’m excited to dive into these things, even if they require training and paperwork, because of all the things I enjoy doing, I was put on this earth to write and teach. In the fall, I’ll also be teaching a creative writing course locally if enough people enroll. I’m capping that class at 10 students so I can give them my best, so it shouldn’t be too hard to fill. This summer, I might have the chance to volunteer as a TA in an online course.

Education, Writing Life


I’m in the midst of seeking more students to tutor. I enjoy that one-on-one educational experience and I’m looking to get more experience in the educational field. That’s not to say I won’t still freelance, but I’d rather do that on clientele basis rather than working for companies that need content.


Why the shift?

Realistically, I’ve noticed a trend over the last year of freelancing and that is that companies tend to expect more and more of their writers, yet the pay doesn’t increase to match. If I were working one-on-one with a client, my contract with that client would state that additional work would cost extra.

But my desire to shift gears isn’t just about money and expectations. I made the decision this semester that I want to focus more on education. To that end, I spent some time yesterday seeking out some new opportunities that I hope give me the opportunity to work with students, both individually and in class settings.

I won’t get into what they are now because I don’t want to jinx anything.

What changes am I making to my freelancing goals?

I want to focus more on editing and ghostwriting. I recognize that the latter may not really start to take off until I’ve published a novel, so I’m happy to be patient. I’ll continue doing editing work. I’m also not leaving any of the companies I currently write for at this time. I enjoy working with the people there and the work is fun, at least. But the trends of ever-changing expectations, as well as taking up writing time from my fiction or my blog have inspired me to realize that I need to be focusing my attention on education.

I’ll write more about this as I’m moving through this transition, but one thing you can count on: I will continue to offer the services listed here on my website going forward.

Education, MFA, Writing Life

Why Do I Write?

Earlier this year, I was happy to host a guest post by Sarah Foil about why she writes. I thought today would be a great opportunity, almost one-half through my second MFA semester, to talk to you about why I write. Each of us has our own reasons, our own inspirations, and mine are two-fold.


Why I Write: I’m An Artist

When I was in high school, I participated in a program called the Center for Creative Youth, or CCY. This program invited high school students to spend five weeks on campus at Wesleyan University over the summer, working with artists. I focused on drawing, because it was my strongest visual art.

CCY was a great program. I had fun, learned a lot, and got to explore some other art forms as well, such as storytelling through sign language and ballroom dancing. Regular practice with drawing led to some strides made with that skill, but then I put that skill aside. Why? Because I wanted to be a paleontologist. Art was just for fun at the time. I’d wanted to study dinosaurs since as far back as I could remember.

I considered myself skilled with drawing dinosaurs. I wish that I still had some of those drawings, but I said goodbye to them when I went through my first minimalist craze.

Anyway, that was back in the late nineties. In 2003, I decided paleontology wasn’t for me. More accurately, it was the math that wasn’t for me. In my program, I needed to pass calculus in order to obtain a geology degree. I’m still not sure why that was, as I recall using geometry and trigonometry in geology, but no calculus. And wouldn’t you know it? My brain just couldn’t process that kind of math.

I also happened to hate going to school where I was. I felt like a number, and after a particularly harrowing experience with the administration at my school, I felt like the worst sort of number a person can feel like: the kind that comes with a dollar sign.

I decided to transfer. New school, new major, new life. Unsurprisingly, I went back to the arts and decided to major in art education. How fast I learned that drawing is the only kind of fine art I had any raw talent in! After a year which included student observation hours, I had an existential crisis–how could I possibly teach students how to create their best fine arts when I lacked both the skill and passion to pursue any but drawing?

Caveat: Looking back on my younger self, I could have done some career research to discover that there are plenty of paths for those who can draw. Part of the reason I didn’t explore those paths was because of lackluster advisement, but I own the other half of that. At that time in my life, I was not good at advocating for myself.

By 2004, I was three years into my undergrad career, and essentially undecided. That’s when I fell in love with art history. I was required to take the first survey course, and in a class most students use as nap time, I flourished. My parents and I agreed that it was time to settle on something, regardless of career outlook, and just get my degree.


In the next two and a half years (yes, I took five and a half to get my BA), I learned a lot about art, artists, history, culture, and myself. I learned that I love learning. I learned that I love writing. Not only did I love writing, but I felt I had a spark of talent.

In January 2007, I graduated with my B.A. in Art History. I knew that I wanted to pursue writing, and while I’d discovered this in time to write for the university newspaper for one semester before graduating, I did not discover it in time to make a convincing case to change my major and stay in school for yet another two years–even if I was footing the bill via loans.

What followed was six years of taking writing courses on the side while I tried not to be broke and unhappy with my career trajectory. I worked in a number of jobs, usually offices with 9-5 roles and cubicles. There, I learned that environment is not for me. I was unhappy, and broke.

In 2013, I made a decision. If I was going to be broke all the time, I might as well be happy. Why not go for not being broke and sacrificing my happiness? Because being unhappy, to me, just isn’t worth it. What makes me happy is writing, so I enrolled to study English and Creative Writing, and in 2015, I earned my M.A.


From M.A. to M.F.A.

Is one writing degree enough? Sure. Many writers–stellar ones at that–don’t have any writing degrees. Many of them, or maybe all of them, are lifelong learners. They didn’t take on thousands in student loans to pursue learning their craft. So why did I?

Well, after taking some workshops and one-off courses, getting my M.A. was like learning there’s a world outside of my own little bubble. It opened my mind. Not only did I thirst for more of that, but I want to teach at the college level, and while many can do so with an M.A. or even a few novels under their belts, I discovered in 2015 that schools want to see that incoming teachers have experience (not surprising). The best way to get that experience was to go back to school and become a T.A.

I’m loving that, by the way, but just as exciting for me is the opportunity to study with talented mentors who are guiding me to become a stronger writer. Would I have learned many of the lessons I’ve learned so far studying solo, or just through the practice of my art? Probably. But it would have taken a lot longer, and I might have missed out on something. Besides, thrusting myself into this M.F.A. program has forced me to do what I didn’t between B.A. and M.A.: Put my art first.

Being an Artist

As an artist, it’s my job to hold a mirror to the world. It’s a cliche saying but I’ve always liked it because I personally believe that reflection and growth is the purpose of life. If the sole purpose of life was procreation, why did we bother to evolve past the amoeba stage? Being an amoeba probably isn’t that exciting, so I’m glad we’re humans, but if we’re humans for any purpose, it’s the expansion of our minds.

I write in order to do that for myself, and hopefully, for others. I write because I’m an artist, before I’m anything else. I write every day, in some capacity, because I believe in improving my skill as an artist more than I believe in any other pursuit…so I’m broke, but happy.

My father and I at my M.A. graduation ceremony. Pity the sun was in our eyes, but I still love this photo.

Why I Write: Lineage

My father wanted to be a forest ranger. I didn’t know this until my mid-twenties. In fact, I didn’t know what he’d wanted to be because he didn’t often talk about himself, his thoughts, his feelings. He liked to talk about politics. He liked to philosophize. But rarely, if ever, did his own self come out directly in those conversations.

I remember the day he told me he wanted to be a forest ranger. He was counseling me to find a good 9-5 job that would pay me a decent salary, benefits, give me vacation days, etc…and write on the side. I explained to him that I just wasn’t happy with that situation. His initial response was, “Work is work, not because it makes you happy. If it made you happy, they would call it play.”

I responded that writing is work, but it makes me happy because it feels like I’m giving something back to the world. Then I asked what he’d wanted to be, and he told me about his dreams of being a forest ranger.

He gave that dream up in order to afford to raise a family. I have two older sisters and we grew up in a comfortable setting. I don’t ever remember a time when I was a child when I had to wonder how I would be provided for, and I’m so grateful to both of my parents for that. I know, as an adult, that such a narrative isn’t common, and even though we didn’t grow up rich, many children have to worry about how they’ll eat or whether home will be safe for them. The fact that I didn’t is a mark of my privilege, true, but also a mark of my father setting aside his forest-ranging dream to work in sales.

But I don’t have children to look after, nor have I ever planned on having children to look after. I’d like to think that if I did, I wouldn’t be so selfish so as to put my own dreams ahead of their welfare. As I only have myself to look after, I’d rather focus on the immaterial needs that I crave rather than material comforts. I get by, but I’m not raking it in, either. Sometimes that causes stress in my life, but I’m willing give up financial surety and comfort for the opportunity to write more.

For the opportunity to make writing my vocation, not my avocation.

A Promise Made

In June 2016, my father was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Recovery wasn’t on the table, but he hoped that with chemotherapy, he could live out the rest of the year. However, on September 9, 2016, his battle with that disease and the chemo ended. This was the most devastating thing I’ve ever experienced. I’m so similar to my father in so many ways, and we were close–his loss hit hard and took us by surprise, as not three months prior to his diagnosis, he seemed fine.

Before he passed, I made him a promise: That I would immortalize him through my writing. My dream of practicing my art became, in that moment, not just my dream, but a promise. A vow. As much as I write for myself, I write for my father, and for his memory.


Why Do You Write? Why Do You Read?

Why do we do any of the things that don’t immediately serve some survival need? Because, my friends, we’re not amoeba. We’re humans, and as I said above, if we can’t expand our minds, then what are we doing here? I’m not saying that’s the only reason for living–there are many–and I’m not downplaying raising children. For those who want to raise children, I think it’s wonderful and beautiful to give so much of oneself to someone else.

My goal in sharing this post with you is, in part, to let you know me a bit better, reader to author, so that when I hold up that mirror, you’re willing to take a peek and examine what you see in the reflection.

But I ask you to think about why you do anything that you do–especially where the arts are concerned. We need the arts in our lives, in this world, but what do they mean to you? What do they give you? Ask from you? What are you willing to invest in order to flourish your relationship to the arts–any arts?


TA Update: Collaboration is Key

On Wednesday, I taught my first lesson of the semester. Whereas last fall I was TA-ing in a freshman course, this semester I’m in a sophomore seminar. For this lesson, I worked with my fellow TA (we’re in the same class this time around) to plan about an hour’s worth of content.


Our First Plan

Originally, when we started thinking about what we’d like to do, we planned to do a game on evaluating sources for research. We were going to create a slide deck with various sources, split the class into two teams, and run a competition. However, we thought of a few problems with this:

  • What if technology was disagreeable that day? It’d happened before.
  • What if a slide isn’t sufficient space to share enough information for students to determine a source’s value?
  • What if the students didn’t know how to evaluate sources yet?

The last question was the big issue–and it prompted our revision of our lesson plan.

Our Second Plan

We put together a lesson plan that culminated in the game we intended to run, with some exercises first to allow the students to learn how to evaluate sources–and then practice. The problem was that we still felt like something was missing, our game still faced the potential issues of technology and space allowance, and now we were running into the second half of the class.

So, we emailed the professor we’re working with this term. She didn’t mind us taking more time, but as we thought about our plans, we discovered what was missing: how to incorporate sources.

After all, that goes hand-in-hand with evaluating sources. We discussed this with the professor, and came up with a new plan.

Our Third Plan

On Monday, the professor taught APA in-text citations. This was a great lead-in to our Wednesday plans. I taught evaluating sources (using the CRAAP method), and my fellow TA taught the students how to concoct an APA reference listing.

The two lessons worked well together, and we didn’t have to worry about the concerns I listed above. Overall, planning for this took about a week, and that includes both my fellow TA and I creating handouts and reviewing each other’s. It also included addressing printing concerns.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed working on this lesson together. It was great to be able to bounce ideas back and forth, and this reiterated for me something I had already learned (but reinforcement in this is always good): Even when teaching alone, it’s a great idea to share lesson plans, handouts, readings, assignments, rubrics…every piece that makes up the puzzle that is a course.

Great things can come of brainstorming. If we’d stuck with our first plan, it might have been fun and the students would have been able to test the knowledge that they came into class with…but that didn’t involve us actually teaching.

Our second plan was better in that regard, but it still needed some more oomph to go from abstract ideas to practical application in the sense that the students will have to create an annotated bibliography before they write their research papers. Those will involve APA references and evaluating sources.

We were able to get the students involved, teach them valuable, actionable information, and tie it in to their semester-long projects–all because we collaborated.


How Starburst Saved the Day


I’ve had the opportunity to teach a few mini-lessons in the composition class I’m observing as part of my TA program, for which I’m grateful. I’ve noticed, during those lessons, that the students are a bit sleepy. It’s not a lack of energy on my part; I’ve taught martial arts for years and I understand that students feed off an instructor’s energy. Part of the problem is that the class is at 2 pm on a Monday; another part of the problem was gray skies. And let’s be honest, not every student wants to learn about grammar and the nitty-gritty of writing.

Class During Nap Time

When I was an undergrad student, whenever I had class around two o’clock, I’d get sleepy. With a full stomach from lunch, and often having been in class as early as 8 am (which meant leaving home at 6:30 am because of traffic and parking woes), by mid-afternoon, all I wanted was a little cat nap.

It didn’t help that one of my classes scheduled at that hour was a history of world music course, and for a month we studied nocturnes. With the lights off.

The professor made it dark and played me lullabies. Sleep was inevitable.

I finally got around to asking her not to turn the lights off because I really did want to stay awake and focus on class.

So, as a TA, after observing sleepy faces in my first mini-lesson, I tried to get everyone on their feet for my second. It worked moderately well, and it was part of this past Monday’s lesson (which ended up not being mini at all–it clocked in at 50 minutes). But I knew, from my second mini-lesson, that it wasn’t going to be enough just to get them up and moving.

For one thing, they can’t really move about easily in the classroom without tripping on the furniture. I didn’t want to cause an injury.

Acknowledging the Issue

I started out the lesson with an introduction on what we’d be covering–when to cite in an MLA essay. Then I abandoned my slideshow for a moment to talk with them earnestly about the realistic challenges of class at this time slot.

“It’s your first day off the weekend,” I said. “You’ve spent the last two days working, doing homework, maybe seeing friends or traveling. I get it–you’re tired.”

Then, I talked about how hard it is to stay awake in class. I told them about my undergrad music history class and the nocturnes. I got a few smiles.

“It’s cloudy, too,” I added. “That always makes me want to close my eyes and go to sleep. And I get that some–or maybe even all–of you aren’t that excited about MLA citations.”

I don’t claim to be a mind-reader. I don’t know what they were thinking at this point, but I imagine the smiles and nods I received were in appreciation of my willingness to understand how sleepy college life can make a person.

Having graduated from my undergrad program in 2007, it’s not so long ago that I can’t recall how much some classes–especially gen eds–inspired sleepiness no matter how energetic the professor was.

Let’s Call it What it Is: A Bribe

Perhaps they were expecting me to just move on with the lesson. But I’d hidden a bag of Starburst on the podium at the front of the room. I picked it up and held it high.

“If you participate today,” I promised, “you get a Starburst. And I got the good ones–the red and pink flavors.”

Suddenly, the room livened. Students laughed. More of them smiled. Some of them sat up straighter in their seats.

I told them I knew MLA citations weren’t their favorite subject, and I wasn’t above bribing their participation. So, throughout the lesson, students were offered Starburst for  sharing their work. Some students elected to share even though they didn’t want Starburst. They donated their candy to another classmate.

The key here, I think, is to offer the candy-bribe in exchange for active and willing participation.

I wouldn’t use the candy-bribe in every lesson. But I had a lot of material to get through and I knew it wasn’t as interesting as discussing literature or debating hot-button issues.

Final Thoughts

Is it okay to bribe students? Originally, I was going to use the Starburst to reward correct answers during an interactive part of the lesson. However, two things changed my mind:

  • My fellow TA and I split the Starburst and I worried there weren’t enough for that, so she suggested using them as a reward for participation.
  • As the morning and early afternoon wore on, I decided it’d be wrong to reward the correct answers with candy.

The latter is more important–I don’t think correct answers should be rewarded with some kind of treat. I think that would discourage students from participating if their answers were not correct. What good is it to reward students who get the right answer at the beginning of a lesson when the purpose of that lesson is to teach them the right answer?

I ended up giving away the remaining Starburst at the end of the lesson, but I think the students had fun with it even though they knew it was a participation bribe. They actively and eagerly took part in the lesson even though they were sleepy. Even though the first snowfall started outside in the middle of class. Even though it was a Monday.

Starburst saved the day this week, but it was also, I think, my honesty in the purpose for the candy and the acknowledgment and validation of their sleepiness.