January Poetry Contest

First snow. Not impressed.

It’s time for another poetry contest! I can’t wait to see what y’all send me this month. There are two prize options: 1) A $25 gift certificate to the independent bookstore of your choice, or 2) A $25 donation to the literacy nonprofit or public library of your choice. Please see the Monthly Contest Page for complete rules (there aren’t many) and past winners. This month’s deadline is Wednesday, January 20th at 11:59 pm.

Write a haiku with the following theme: inside/outside. You do not have to include the theme words in your poem; explore different ways of embodying the theme through language and image. Haiku can range from 1-3 lines. 5-7-5 syllable structure is not required. Please keep haiku to approximately 17 total syllables for the entire poem.

Email your haiku to allyson@allysonwhipple.com by 11:59 pm on January 20th. Given the brevity of the form, poems pasted into the body of the email are preferred. If you have unique formatting that requires submitting as and attachment, that’s fine.

More Notes on Teaching in a Pandemic

After teaching the second half of the spring 2020 semester entirely online, I thought that I’d teach the summer remotely and return to the classroom in the fall of 2020. At the start of the fall semester, I was still teaching remotely, but figured I’d be returning to the classroom in the spring. Now I’m potentially getting back into the physical classroom in the summer. Below are additional observations I’ve made as I continue to teach remotely.

Teaching fuel

Never say never, never say always, there are always exceptions, usually. I learned that phrase from my seventh grade science teacher, Mr. Radie. It’s one of the sayings that has stayed with me throughout my adult life because I see how it plays out time and time again. For example, though ACC uses a well-resarched and tested organizational structure for all online classes, the setup and course design still does not work for 100% of students 100% of the time. While we’ve been trained to structure our classes to be easy to navigate and understand, with a focus on accessibility, there is no way to design a course that is perfect for 100% of students. We do our best and work to always get better, and yet we still have to keep in mind that there are (almost) always exceptions to the rules, and there is no one system that is perfect for every single person.

Online learning is not for everyone. Some people really do hate it. Some are showing up and powering through because they can’t or don’t want to put their degree and career goals on hold. That doesn’t mean that students won’t succeed in a classroom environment that’s a mediocre or bad fit. However, I do feel sorry for those who are trying to make the best of a bad situation and struggling because they’d be happier in a classroom.

I don’t believe that a student’s level of motivation is the reason for their success or failure in online learning. Throughout my teaching career, I’ve heard that students need to be more self-motivated than in an in-person classroom. This semester, I’ve started to doubt that. First, if being in a physical classroom could compensate for a lack of motivation, no student who came to an in-person class would ever quit. In addition, this semester, I have encountered some of the most motivated students I’ve ever encountered… and they still struggled. Students who wanted to be in the class, and even wanted to be taking online classes, still struggled. There’s more to success than motivation. Students are facing unprecedented challenges, and sometimes, the difficulties of work (or lack thereof) and family responsibilities mean a student is not going to finish the class. To chalk it up to motivation is a reductionist move that glosses over the complexities of online learning and pandemic learning.

Put information in multiple formats. This semester, I decided to experiment with making my weekly course announcements available in both email and video format. I’ve always done email announcements, but since all of my online courses were originally set up to be asynchronous, I decided it would be a good idea to give students the option to have an option where they could hear a voice and see a face. I wasn’t sure how many people would be interested. As it turns out, most students made use of both formats, and many students thanked me for giving them options.

I don’t believe that students should take course overloads during pandemics. I mean, I don’t think that students should take course overloads at any point. And I am a person who might have done so in undergrad had I been able to. But now that I’ve spent nearly a decade on the other side of the classroom, I’m seeing how intentionally overloading yourself as a student causes difficulty more often than not. Yes, some students might have compelling reasons to overload, and yes, some students can handle it. On the whole, however, I don’t think that taking course loads is a good idea, and especially not with pandemic stress. I had three excellent students who ended up really struggling in the last third of the semester, and the common thread among all of them was that their advisors had advised them to take overloads so they could graduate faster. Maybe this would have been fine for them without the stress of a pandemic, but between that and the fact that none of these students were in their preferred learning environment (a physical classroom), things did not end up working out very well. I don’t think advisors should be pushing students to graduate early with so much extra weight on their shoulders.

To all of my teacher friends out there: we’re going to get through this! Best of luck as we embark on anther pandemic semester. Here’s hoping for something better in the fall.

The Best of It: Christmas Day Edition

Little dog on the prairie
  1. Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You
  2. Wham!’s “Last Christmas” (I know, I am the only person who loves this song.)
  3. Any and all versions of “Silent Night” (I linked to one of John Fahey’s versions)
  4. Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas is Coming
  5. The Mountain Goats’ rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (Don’t listen if you don’t like a side of existentialism with your Christmas music)

December Contest Winner

The source text for Christa Pandey’s poem

I received a number of delightful holidays poems this month. In a year where I’ve felt out of touch with the holiday spirit (I didn’t even put up the tree), it was lovely to open my inbox and find poems from both good friends and distant acquaintances.

This month’s winning poem is “Christmas Cento” by Christa Pandey. She used the hymnal One Faith/Una Voz (2005) as her source text. In the poem, you’ll see numbers next to each line; these denote the page in the hymnal where the line originally occurred.

Christmas music is my favorite aspect of the winter season, and I have a special fondness for classical carols even though I’m not religious. I enjoyed seeing the ways in which Christa made something new out of traditional music.

As her prize, Christa chose a donation to Conspirare.

Christmas Cento 

397 It came upon a midnight clear,
400 the darkness everywhere,
376 the silent stars go by, 
397 o’er all the weary world 
374 they traveled on together
400 amid the cold of winter. 

397 Beneath life’s crushing load
397 the days are hastening on,
390 let nothing you dismay 
379 nor thorns infest the ground,
383 wing your flight o’er all the earth
397 above this sad and lowly plain. 

376 No ear may hear his coming,
380 silent night, holy night, 
382 say what may the tidings be?
380 All is calm, all is bright,
390 all you within this place 
380 sleep in heavenly peace. 

374 Lo, when they had heard it
387 joyful all ye nations rise 
383 ever more your voices raising,
392 the stars in the sky 
382 and the mountains in reply
390 each other now embrace. 

379 Let us our songs employ,
382 echo back their joyous strains,
379 let every heart prepare him room,
400 dispel in glorious splendor
376 the hopes and fears of all the years
390 when we were gone astray. 

374 There shone a holy light,
383 brighter visions beam afar,
387 join the triumph of the skies,
383 sages leave your contemplation,
390 with true love and charity
404 the king of kings salvation brings.

378 O come let us adore him, 
378 joyful and triumphant, 
382 come adore on bended knee, 
404 bring him incense, gold and myrrh. 
387 Christ is born in Bethlehem, 
379 he rules the world with truth and grace.

December Poetry Contest

It’s time for another poetry contest! I can’t wait to see what y’all send me this month. I’m now offering two options for prizes: 1) A $25 gift certificate to the independent bookstore of your choice, or 2) A $25 donation to the literacy nonprofit or public library of your choice. Please see the Monthly Contest Page for complete rules (there aren’t many) and past winners. This month’s deadline is Tuesday, December 15th at 11:59 pm.

I love the cento form. It’s a kind of collage poem, where you build a piece out of found text, usually other people’s poems. You can find out more about the cento here: https://poets.org/glossary/cento.

Create a holiday cento. It can be any holiday from any tradition; you don’t have to limit yourself to the impending winter festivities. You can draw from poems, but also feel free to explore other types of text. Try creating cento out of liturgical passages or prayers. Dig into that pile of greeting cards you’ve saved from Easter, Valentine’s Day, or Christmas past. Create a cento out of advertising copy for holiday sales. Email your poem to allyson@allysonwhipple.com by 11:59 pm on December 15th. The winner will receive a gift certificate to the independent bookstore of their choice, or I will make a donation in their honor to a literacy nonprofit.

The Best of It: Weekend Hikes Edition

Strike a pose!
  1. Hiking at Emma Long Metropolitan Park.
  2. Being able to let Astrid off-leash (allowed at the park) and trusting her to stay close to us and play well with other dogs.
  3. Finishing my third quilt.
  4. Getting to participate in the 100,000 Poets for Change Southwest Haiku Reading on Friday night. You can view the three haiku that I read at Miriam’s Well.
  5. The only thing I have to make for Thanksgiving this year is pumpkin pie.