Saturday, January 4, 2014

If You're One of My Students, Don't You Dare Read This.

Okay. Now that I have your attention, class, please don’t forget that the first 250 words of your new mystery novel are due Monday…and that additional 250-word submissions are due every day before class for the next two weeks.

Yep, I’m a teacher. Even have the faculty ID to prove it.  Students are calling me “Professor” (a title quite different from what my own professors used to call me) and some even call me “doctor.”  Though technically I am a doctor, in these lurching Affordable Care Act times I worry that if people overhear me addressed by that title they’ll expect I can somehow shed light on what all of it means.  I’d have a better chance impersonating George Carlin explaining the meaning of life to Cheech & Chong than tackling ACA.  And neither would be a pretty sight.

Speaking of pretty sights, take a look at the building where I hold classes: The Burnett Center at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania, thirty miles south of Pittsburgh. 

Here’s the view looking out the front door of Burnett up the hill toward the President’s house.

I actually attended this college more years back than I care to (but still can) remember.  In the quirkiest of coincidences the college put me up in a dorm apartment that just happens to be three doors down the hall from the room I lived in as a freshman. And before any of you wags ask, NO, there weren’t hitching posts outside the dorm for horses in those days.  But I did stand on that corner (in the photograph below) one morning in early 1963 and watch President JFK go by in a motorcade.  So close you could almost touch him….

Back to the present.  Teaching is an interesting experience, unlike any professional obligation I’ve undertaken before. As a lawyer, my duty was to park my predilections at the door and to act ruthlessly (within the law) on behalf of my clients. As a writer, my only duty is to write what I like, hoping all the while that my readers will agree with my choices. 

As a teacher, I see my duty as a product of the two: I am responsible to those looking to me for guidance to pass on those aspects of my own experiences I believe will benefit them in developing a frame of reference for their own unique writing lives.  I can’t build it for them, but I can suggest where to look for parts.

What I’m being asked to do requires a lot of work, considerable thinking, and adjustments on the fly.  Then again, what positive achievements in life do not?

I know, I’m beginning to sound a bit pedagogical.  Hard not to when you’re a novice, especially when you’re lucky enough to have your first gig on a small liberal arts college campus with as idyllic a setting as any Hollywood created vision. And not just the buildings, though at least one stone and white column gem goes back to the late 18th Century and my own office sits on the second floor of a white brick and column classic that’s hard to imagine as ever having been anything but home to a college English Department.

For beyond the physical beauty of the campus and the Norman Rockwell reminiscences summoned up by the adjacent town streets, you have the people.  First day on campus I was invited to a faculty New Year’s Day get-together.  In the absolutely best connotation of the phrase “straight out of central casting,” you couldn’t have put together a more representative sample of the best of what it means to be part of the academic life, with interesting, giving, helpful, knowledgeable folk all welcoming me into their community.

No, I’m not sucking up for a better grade.  I’m just telling it like it is.  And I already have invitations to dinner.  Though I could use a few more....

I just hope that my sixteen dedicated students in ENG 283-01 (MYSTERY WRITING UNMASKED: Techniques, Tactics, and Trends) will have had as much fun as I’m having––and manage to learn something along the way.



  1. I would love to have a gig like this. I'd love to take your class, too. I'd learn something AND be entertained royally at the same time.

    1. It's one of those things I can only do because of all I've learned from terrific author friends such as you, Donis. Thanks!

  2. I am afraid your students may actually read this, Jeff, so I am afraid to make the joke that temps me about " making adjustments on the fly.". I have decided to be a good girl and hope you enjoy your gig. It sounds delightful and excites envy in me.

  3. Making you into a good girl even momentarily dwarfs any other achievement in my life! And thanks for not mentioning the fly part.

    1. And I'll follow AmA by resisting the urge to make the comment that "dwarfs" and "fly" brings to mind.

      But congratulations, Prof! If only I'd had you rather than the traditional... English professor. :-(

      Only 250 words per day??? Sheesh, what a vacation! (Of course, my real fear is that your teaching gig is going to put a dent in YOUR writing schedule!)

    2. I can't believe the slack this Prof gig is getting me from this site's fiercest wags. But to be honest, Everett, it's putting a dent in a lot of things. I'm just hoping in the end I'll come out of it as hammered silver. Now go play with that image:)

      On a serious note, the patriarch of what I regard as my Greek family passed away this week, and my reference to hammered silver is in honor of his nonpareil work as Greece's greatest jeweler and finest gentleman, Ilias Lalaounis. God bless your soul, my friend.

  4. Come out of it as "hammered silver" or just "hammered?"

    Sorry to hear about your friend! I earned my degree in college as an Art major (hard to believe, I know), with a focus on "Custom Designed Jewelry and Metalsmithing," so I know somewhat of which you speak. My senior project was even a matched pair of raised silver goblets with black walnut stems. Many hours tap-tap-tap-hammering away, turning flat sheets of silver into nice parabolicly shaped goblets. I was never going to be a great metalsmith, so I became a self-taught programmer instead... :-) You can see the results at:

    That is, assuming the URL doesn't get stripped by the blog software. :-)

    Again, very sorry for your loss!

  5. Thank you, Everett. I took a look at your link, you really are one talented gobl(et)in!

  6. Best of luck with your gig. I taught a creative class at Fort Hays State University in Spring 2008 and loved every minute of the students and the faculty.

  7. Thanks, Charlotte. I love it, too, though I now appreciate why I was told that Intersession teaching (two hours a day, five days week for three and a half weeks) is sort of like trying to take a drink out of a fire hose.