I spent some time yesterday thinking about why I was so irked by my student's blithe request for Tuesday night's lecture materials—why I felt compelled to argue my own position, why I feel defensive, why I feel so very annoyed, why I went on and bloody on about it.

My hard-nosed nature and my pushover nature were at war with each other, you see.

My hard-nosed nature argued that students are responsible for
  • attending classes and making sure that they have arranged their lives so that they can attend classes
  • organizing their lives so that they have some backup if they can't attend classes
  • doing readings and homework so that they'll be ready for classes
  • asking me for help if they need it
I, as the instructor, am responsible for
  • providing information and instruction in class, ideally in a variety of formats and using a variety of instructional approaches so that students with different skill sets and aptitudes can benefit from my expertise
  • sourcing or creating instructional materials to help students understand or practise using material presented in class
  • designing and evaluating assessment materials
  • responding to student questions in class and out
  • providing students with opportunities to ask such questions
  • offering and providing extra help for students whose assessments indicate that they're having difficulties with the material
  • accommodating students with special needs to the best of my abilities, including working with the special needs office, presenting material in different formats, and providing alternative assessment strategies to accommodate students' special needs
I do a lot of all of that. Maybe not perfectly, all the time, but I spend a fair amount of time on this teaching gig, and, as I noted yesterday, that time isn't confined to the classroom. I do extra help sessions for student who need it, and have alternative assessments and make-up assignments for students who fare poorly on quizzes and tests—I'm more interested in having them prove that they have, eventually, understood the material, than in penalizing them because they missed a class or froze on a test or something.
My pushover nature tells me that earning a living is a basic need. I've argued for a long time that schools need to recognize the diversity of student needs and acknowledge the reality of student experiences. If we accommodate only a specific group of people—say people who don't need to work, or people who can work from 9–5, then we're excluding other students who might otherwise benefit from what we're offering. So, If I were really committed to a diverse group of students, I'd be working harder to make sure that I was accommodating them—after all, they're the ones paying the fees that make it possible for the college to hire me. And it's not like my student was off frivolling. She was working. So maybe I need to put my time-is-money where my mouth has been all this time.

Not everyone is privileged enough to have a job they can leave in order to go to class. And it's not her fault that I'm not organized enough to have typed notes for this lesson, to have powerpoints,* to do what some other instructors do. I shouldn't penalize her for that.

On the other tentacle, the offhand tone still bugged me, and I do feel that she's not living up to her end of the bargain.

So I e-mailed her back:
Hi [[Student]],

I'm sorry you had to miss Tuesday's class. Tuesday's homework was not for handing in—you were to research libel cases to discuss in class, and prepare a thumbnail sketch or flat plan of your orchid-related publication to bring to your group. In the groups, we looked at everyone's thumbnails and discussed how they would work with the content, what kind of illustrative material (photos, illustrations, diagrams, maps, etc.) they were going to spec., and what groups are expected to present next week.

Next week, I would like you to present your orchids publication, with your group. You'll need to tell us about your readers: who they are likely to be, what they want from the publication, what they are bringing to their reading (level of interest, level of expertise, barriers to comprehension). We'll want to see your thumbnail or flat plan and outline (what information you plan to include, what (if any) your major headings will be, how you will present the information), as well as a sample of the writing—I don't need you to write the entire piece, but I do want a paragraph to show what you're looking for in terms of writing style, tone, and reading level. You do not need to provide specific illustrative material or a finished product of any sort—it's not usually the editor's job to find the specific photos for a publication or to create illustrations, and that's not what this course is about. I do need to know what you would ask for, if you had an art department to work with, and what examples you would give your art department to help them find the correct materials.

In class, we also discussed fiction editing and audience analysis for non-fiction editing. I've attached a document about audience analysis, but I do not have electronic lecture notes for the fiction editing portion of the class. I'm afraid you'll have to ask someone if you can copy their notes. I'll try to get a review sheet typed up for you and the rest of the class, but at the moment I don't have anything.

I _can_ give you the key terms for fiction editing, and a few readings that should help fill in the gaps. I do recommend that you ask a classmate if you can photocopy their notes, though.

Manuscript acquisition
Unsolicited submissions / slush
Solicited submissions
Commission / Writer-for-hire
Reader's report / Manuscript evaluation

Person vs person
Person vs self
Person vs nature
Person vs world
Person vs entity
Narrative structure
(Writing) style
First person
Second person
Third person limited
Third person omniscient

Some readings you can look at regarding editing fiction:


Teresa Nielsen Hayden: Slushkiller http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004641.html

There are a lot of comments. You don't need to read those.

Lee Masterson and Tina Morgan: Editing Fiction http://www.fictionfactor.com/articles/editingfiction.html

Written for authors about how to edit their own fiction, but it provides a pretty good look at what editors look for both when they're evaluating a submission and when they're editing a manuscript.

Bruce Sterling, ed. Turkey City Lexicon: http://www.sfwa.org/writing/turkeycity.html

This is a list of common writing faults in science-fiction and fantasy. Many of the entries also apply to other genre fiction, so it's worth reading, but if you're not a big reader of genre fiction (especially SF and fantasy), don't get too caught up in entries that don't make a lot of sense. I suggest that you read through it, and consider whether you've seen the problems it mentions in writing you've encountered.

As always, if you have specific questions about the material covered in class or the readings, please do feel free to e-mail me or speak with me after class.

Please remember that your final essay is due next week, in class.

Best regards,

And, of course, part of my anger came from feeling defensive about the one lesson per semester that I teach mostly off the cuff. I should be more organized than that.

* I really, really hate making powerpoint presentations. I hate teaching from slides—irrationally, perhaps. In part, I don't like being tied to my plan—some of my best teaching moments come from taking advantage of teachable moments. In part, because fumbling from presentation software to the big-ass full-spread pdfs I project is cumbersome. In part, because my classroom is annoyingly set up, and I don't like being tied to the desk with the pc. In part because slide presentations are inherently one directional, and my teaching style is more interactive than that. And in part because I am old-fashioned and curmudgeonly.