Saturday, March 8, 2014

Threats to Freedom of Speech at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Actually, all Tennessee state schools. As Tennessee lawmakers have proposed a bill which would essentially end speakers on college campuses, many Tennesseans are outraged and trying to make their own voices heard. Professor Misty Anderson exchanged emails with Tennessee State Senator Stacey Campfield over her concerns about the proposed legislation--the correspondence is a fun read, even as it lowers my opinion of the senator even further, if that was possible. It's fun to watch an actual scholar of the eighteenth century respond to wingnutty misuses of the words of Thomas Jefferson.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

CFP: Feminists Co-Opting Media

This panel examines the ways media can further feminism rather than co-opt it, such as Pussy Riot, Women Under Siege, Goldieblox, and UN Women. Please send 250 word abstracts to Monica Miller at by March 15.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

My Real Teaching Philosophy

I've now made it through my first MLA season on the job market--no interviews, alas, but I still have over twenty applications for jobs, fellowships, and postdocs outstanding. The uncertainty about the next year is difficult for me, but I'm trying to think of becoming comfortable with uncertainty as a strategy for personal growth.***

A big part of this whole process has been writing, revising, and workshopping all of those job documents, the various pieces of writing required by various applications. Some of these have been really helpful--while writing a dissertation abstract before the dissertation is complete is rather odd, writing and revising it has ultimately helped clarify my thinking about my dissertation. It was a very rewarding writing experience.

However, in all aspects of my life, I need to have a nemesis. Job docs are apparently no different: I have discovered that my teaching philosophy is the James Franco of my job docs. I'm not sure why I have such a block against it--it just seems so fake to me. Perhaps it's because it's difficult not to sound like every other teaching philosophy--of course my classroom is student-centered. Of course I care about student engagement and analytical skills. I was quite cheered by this Chronicle column, which echoes quite a few of my problems with the teaching philosophy--I'm much more in favor of the annotated syllabus that the author suggests, as that seems like it would be much clearer than an essay.

Part of my problem with my teaching philosophy is just that--while I certainly have larger, more abstract principles which guide my teaching (engagement and analytical skills actually being my biggest priorities in the classroom)--if I were going to talk to other teachers about my day-to-day priorities, they're rather different from what my formal teaching philosophy is. Here, now, is my actual working teaching philosophy:

*Keep up with grading
We kvetch about it on social media, we dread it and procrastinate, but ultimately, I'm curious as to why this isn't taken more seriously. Do you know what many of my students have said they most appreciate in a teacher? Those who keep up their gradebooks on Moodle and Blackboard. And I admit, keeping up with my gradebook on Moodle has actually had an enormously positive effect on my relationships with students--reducing the number of frantic student emails about their grades (not eliminating them, mind you, but greatly reducing them) has actually enhanced my quality of life. So does not having grading hanging over my head. Getting into the habit of keeping up with grading is yet another habit that I'm not always successful at, but when I do, it's such a feeling of accomplishment. This weekend's Monday Motivator from the NCFDD talks about how teaching has built-in, daily accountability: there are live people we see several times a week who hold us accountable for lesson plans and grading. However, it is these very eyeballs which make us feel immediately bad when we do fall behind grading.

*Make sure you're wearing pants
Well, not literally. I tend to wear more skirts than pants. But I do put a lot of thought into my appearance in the classroom--not only on what kind of authority I'm projecting with what I'm wearing (Are pink tights too much? Is this jacket too much?), but on the practicality of what I'm wearing. I know I'm prone to spilling coffee, so dark colors are good. If I'm teaching in Tureaud Hall, I'm going to burn up on the walk to class and freeze once I'm inside.

*Wear comfortable shoes
There are people who disagree with me about this--many young women feel that the sound of high heels projects an air of authority. If that works for you, awesome. But again, I think it's important to think about the physical experience of teaching--what do my feet feel like at the end of a class period? What kind of space do I have to teach in--will this long skirt get caught on things? Will these long cuffs start annoying me if I'm writing on the board.

*Bring your own chalk
It is rare when a classroom I'm teaching English or Women's and Gender Studies in has plenty of chalk or dry erase markers, so I always make sure I have extra with me. However, I always point out to my students when I do so--I think it's crucial that students (and parents) are aware when there's a paucity of resources on campus. My first day of class last semester, I had neither internet access nor enough desks for my students nor chalk. I rolled with it--I pulled in chairs from my office down the hall, and I used my phone as a hotspot so that I could pull up the syllabus online, and I had my own stash of chalk--but I made sure that students were aware of these shortages.

*And finally, have a good playlist before class
I have a number of go-to songs I listen to in headphones before class--"Pretty in Pink," "Fight the Power," and the Human League's "Fascination" are just a few. All of these get me energized in various ways to go teach class. And while not everyone requires 80s music to get in the mood to teach, I do think it's important to have some time before class to center and get into a good head space to teach.

Having spelled all of this out now, I'm struck by how teacher-centered these points are. Perhaps that's what's missing from my formal teaching philosophy--in all of my focus on "student-centeredness," often times what falls out is the actual teacher in the teacher philosophy. Self-care as pedagogy--radical, perhaps, but important.

***Trying, not necessarily succeeding. Uncertainty is a pretty big challenge for me.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Call for Submissions--Women's Caucus of the Modern Languages Awards

The Women’s Caucus for the Modern Languages
welcomes submissions for its annual awards.

The 2013 Florence Howe Award
Each year, the Florence Howe Award for feminist scholarship recognizes two outstanding essays by feminist scholars, one from the field of English and one from a foreign language. Each recipient receives $250 and is honored at an event hosted by the Women’s Caucus at the annual MLA meeting.
To be eligible for consideration, essays of 6250-7500 words, written from a feminist perspective, must have been published in English between June 2012 and September 2013. Applicants must also be members of the Women’s Caucus.
Please send submissions and inquiries to: Kirsten Christensen, Associate Professor of German, Department of Languages and Literatures, Pacific Lutheran University at
Deadline for submission: November 30, 2013.

The 2013 Annette Kolodny Award
The Annette Kolodny Award is presented annually to a graduate student member of the Women’s Caucus who is scheduled to give a paper at the MLA.  The recipient receives $400 and is honored at an event hosted by the Women’s Caucus at the annual MLA meeting.
To apply, please send electronic copies of your CV and abstract, as well as information on the MLA session in which you are scheduled to present, to: Kirsten Christensen, Associate Professor of German, Department of Languages and Literatures, Pacific Lutheran University at
Please note that applicants must be members of the Women’s Caucus.
Deadline: November 30, 2013.

For further information about these awards and about the Women’s Caucus for the Modern Languages, including membership, go to:

Saturday, August 31, 2013


Normally, I'd title this something about a new semester or new school year, but this was such an eventful summer, that it more feels as if the newness of fall semester is more an outgrowth of my summer activities, rather than a new chapter.  Despite my intentions to be less busy than I was last summer, there were so many opportunities this summer that I struggled with figuring out which I should pursue and which to let go of.

I think I made good choices.  After a whirlwind tour for my birthday (friends, family, mountains, and spending my birthday covered in bubbles dancing to My Life with the Thrill Kill Cult), I taught a five-week course in Southern Women Writers, did research in the new Dorothy Allison archive at Duke, and spent a week in the redwoods of Santa Cruz, immersed in the Dickens Universe

There are way too many stories to tell to even begin telling them here.  However, the end result has been, weirdly enough, that I have adopted a lot of new, incredibly different, weirdly healthy habits after all of these adventures.  Before this summer, I tended to work upstairs, in front of the tv, staying up until two or three in the morning, and sleeping until afternoon if I could.  Since I've been typically teaching after noon, I could sleep as late as eleven on teaching days, even.  I'd go to jazzercise two or three times a week.  I drank three or four diet soft drinks a day, and ate a lot of sweets. 

Some combination of new environments and challenging (yet thoroughly enjoyable) schedules and--what, magic?--has had the end result of completely resetting my habits.  Since I've been home, I think I've slept as late as ten once.  Mostly, I get up between eight and nine, make some cafetierre  (which I think sounds much fancier than "French press") coffee, and start the day working.  I work much better now downstairs with music, rather than upstairs with television.  I have at most one soft drink a day, if that.  I'm working out five times a week.  And the only sweets I have now are part of my bedtime ritual--chamomile tea and two Biscoff cookies, and I'm ready for bed. I've very quickly pavloved myself into feeling sleepy after this nightly ritual.

I've had similar responses to retreat-like experiences in the past--I quit smoking after one, and made the commitment to finish my bachelors and go to graduate school after another.  It's definitely increasing my productivity, which I'm quite pleased with.  And which is a good thing, as the threat of the job market and finding fifth year funding is looming large at the moment--I need all of the productivity I can get!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Today's research

I arrive in Durham yesterday (yay US Air!  So much better than Delta!) and went to the Rubenstein Library today, where I started my week long research in the Dorothy Allison papers.  I'm here through the generosity of a Mary Lily Research Grant, for which I'm quite grateful.

The archive is a gold mine so far.  There is so much already that speaks to my work. 

Seeing her sequence of manuscripts for Bastard Out of Carolina has also been incredibly inspiring and impressive.  So. many. drafts.  And so much tightening up, and moving things around, and cutting entire scenes.  A big reason why the novel is so good is that there is a hell of a lot of work in it.  Good writing really does come from process--and commitment to that process, and feedback on your process--so much writing that never made it to the page. 

The other day, when I reached that block in my writing, where I hit a question that I didn't know the answer to, a lot of my online writing community encouraged me to try to write through the block--and while I know that sometimes works, it wasn't the right answer at the moment.  I was having an emotional reaction to hitting the block, and as long as the frustration was there, the block was going to remain.  Instead, I got up and did something else for a while--and then I wrote in my dissertation notebook about the frustration, and then I was able to return to my chapter.  (So I guess I sort of wrote through my block, but what was more useful was taking the break to let the emotion simmer down a bit.

Tomorrow, back to the archives.  Duke is so lovely--and today was really something, as I don't think I've ever been in a special collections library that had so many people!  I had to share a table for most of the day.  I'm very happy to know that the collection is so appreciated.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

My First Literature Class*

I just finished teaching my first college literature course during the five-week intensive summer semester.  What a blast!

It was a section of English 2025, Introduction to Fiction; I had made my section a themed one on southern women writers.  We met Monday through Friday from 12:40-2:10.  The weekend before classes began, I had forty students enrolled in the class (plus a waitlist).  However, another instructor's course fell through, so the night before classes started I got an email that my class had been split into two sections, and that half of the students would be assigned to the new section. 

That meant that ultimately, I ended up with 17 students enrolled in my class--an aspect of the class that I think has a lot to do with what a wonderful experience the class was for me.  With 17 students meeting five days a week, I knew everyone's name much faster than ever before, and the class quickly became the kind of classroom community that I hope for each semester.  While I continued to break students up into smaller groups to encourage discussion (and mix up the groups, so that they worked with different people), pretty quickly most of the students were piping up in the full class discussions--what's more, I often had students responding to each other in the full class discussions and even disagreeing with each other.  Being able to stand back while students discuss the text among themselves was just delightful. 

It was so difficult to narrow the readings down--class daily for five weeks meant that I was even more limited in what I could assign.  One realization I had when planning was that I didn't have to assign the readings chronologically--as an intro to fiction, and not a survey class, I didn't have to be comprehensive.  That helped immensely.  With this realization, I started the class with Ellen Douglas's brilliant Can't Quit You, Baby (a novel that pre-dates The Help by a couple of decades and addresses similar themes in a much more thorough manner)--I'm quite pleased with this choice.  Can't Quit You, Baby set up most of the themes I wished to address in the class; throughout the course, students referenced the Douglas novel in comparison to subsequent readings.  And, though I didn't realize it when making the course schedule, many students found the novel's style--the narrator's direct address of the reader, the changing points of view, and the role of the imagination in narration--to require some adjustment, so it also started the course off with the sense that students were going to need to put forth some effort.

I put a lot of credit for the course's success in my "QHQ" assignments, which I did as a student in a graduate seminar and which a colleague reported having success with in teaching an intro to fiction course.  I had students submit online one per week, with a 500-word minimum.  Though at the midterm (i.e., two and a half weeks in) students across the board said they liked them and found them helpful, in the course evals at the end of the semester, many students complained that they were too lengthy.  I'm wondering if perhaps this fall, I might have them be 300 words.  Regardless of the length, I really like like them as an assignment--they lead students through a bit more structure than a more open-ended response paper.  I especially like the kind of thought that ending on a question leads to. 

Plus, as summer students, the students tended to be extra-motivated.  I love all of the readings I assigned.  Students consistently surprised me with insights totally new to me--even of texts like Flannery O'Connor's "Good Country People," a text I thought I knew backwards and forwards. 

We started with Can't Quit You, Baby, and ended with The Color Purple (two texts which several students reported crying over, along with Kay Gibbons' Ellen Foster).  I'm really pleased with the arc that these two texts anchored, and I'm feeling a bit annoyed that I haven't found similar anchors for my fall literature class (which I've themed "The Many Souths," but keep having the problem that all of the texts I want to teach are set in Mississippi!).  Still, I'm really pleased (and a bit relieved!) that my first experience in the college literature classroom was such a positive one.  I hope that I can carry this positivity over to my fall class, and find ways to form a tight community in a class that's got more than twice the number I had this summer!

*Well, technically my second, counting last summer's Shakespeare course at Davidson for the Duke/TIP program, but that was three weeks of even more intensive coursework with gifted seventh and eighth graders, which was a unique experience