Class Update (7-25-2011): An Instructor Interrupted

I have to say, the last several weeks have been a whirlwind of activity and emotions. On the activity side, Pasquale over at Intimo Media  has completely redone both this site and ChristopherZoukis.com. He also managed our most recent press release.

As for me, I've been swamped with school work and newsletter work. To top this off, this last weekend I undertook a very substantial research paper entitled "What Is Prison Education and Why Should We Care?" This was prompted from the Wikipedia page on "Prison Education." It was just so bad, in terms of the meat of it, that I decided to write a research paper and post it. This way prison education would get a fair, well-researched and sourced, shake. After all, I don't want people to read the current page and take it as fact. In the coming weeks I'll be posting my paper to this blog, Wikipedia, and the Media page of this site. Needless to say, life is very hectic and sleep is not coming to me like I wish it would. I guess that this is life.

On the emotional side, this week has been rough to say the least. Now, I know that prisoners aren't supposed to talk about soft topics like feelings, but this is what's up with me. What happened is a dear friend, let's call her "B" out of a concern for her privacy, was diagnosed with pancreatic and colon cancer. B is a very good friend of mine and has been instrumental in much of the work that I've done in the prison education realm. To tell you the truth, she is the one who showed me that prison education was a cause really worth fighting for, not just a hobby or pastime

This news came last week and has really hit me hard. It has really made me put much of my life into perspective. This news has made me reevaluate what I'm doing on a more global scale, which makes me ask: "Are the things that I'm doing worth time taken from my life?" This week has prompted me to weigh all of my activities to ascertain what is really important. The end result is that my resolve and dedication for prison education burn at a fervent new heat. The other news is that this event has actually brought me closer to God. I've been substantially spiritual as of the last few years, but with all of the work that I do, it has caused my worship time to suffer. This is no longer the case. So, B, something good has come out of the turmoil that you find yourself currently stuck in.

B's news was a tough pill to swallow. Much of one's life in prison comprises of activities which are designed to make the time pass. The day I got the news, I think time stopped still for more than a moment. For the first time since my sentencing, I found myself actually crying. This is very odd for me because I do so well in shutting down that portion of my emotional scale. After all, this is prison. But while crying isn't fun, it can be a much needed relief in times of confusion and sorrow. I suppose it shows me that after five years in this hell, that I'm still a caring person...that I'm still me.

Before I move on, I'd like to ask everyone to take a moment and pray for B. She is a good Christian woman who really doesn't deserve such an illness. So, I ask you to pray for B's health so that she might become well again and be able to be the same wonderful woman she always has been.
With so much emotional havoc in my life, it's no wonder that I wasn't on top of my game for this week's discussion on fiction. I found that I was so emotionally drained and tired that I was misspelling simple words on the board. Again, it shows me that I'm just human. Though, the manic man from last week didn't make class easy. He kept on utilizing profanity and making loud jovial comments about what an instructor I must be. Err. I really don't know what else to say about it. It was an exceedingly stressful class which I really didn't enjoy.

For the first time in the history of the class, I contemplated ending early on a normal, non-examination day. However, I couldn't bring myself to do so. As I stood in front of the class I found myself adamant about not letting down or short-changing my students. If they were willing to stay, then so was I.

As 8:00 p.m. rolled around several of the students left, but a surprising number remained. This is probably because we're now gearing up for the final. In 30-minutes, we managed cover all of the final's topics. When doing so, I don't tell them the actual answers, but we do cover the actual questions. Hence, I will ask: "What is social media and what are several examples?" The answers to this will allow me to expand upon how social media can assist them in their pursuits of being a published author or professional writer. By the way, the answer is d) all of the above (MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter).

I've found that by relating the importance of each question to a need in the student's life, they are much more open to the questions and retain the information much better. They may not care about a query letter being one single-spaced page of text, but they do care deeply about interesting publishers and selling their work. Hence, they want to know that a query letter is a one single-spaced page of text.

Another good example is writing for your market. Instead of lecturing my students on the importance of utilizing correct word choices for their market, I make this a more personal discussion. I say, "If you're writing an urban novel, do you utilize college-level English or do you utilize slang and idiomatic expressions? Do you use prim and proper English or do you talk like you do in your neighborhood?" I then liken this to literary fiction to illustrate the stark contrasts. By showing them how diverse writing and genres can be, they seem to understand the point. This type of discussion not only engages their interest and alerts them to what to expect on the final examination, it also opens their mind to different kinds of writing and, perhaps, modest experimentation with their own writing.

As 8:30 p.m. came around, the recall move was announced. To my utter joy, I found it raining cats and dogs. Luckily my folder was a clear plastic one. Hence, it holds the rain at bay. I won't lie. As I made my way back to my housing unit, I jogged. I ignored the loudspeaker announcement of not running and I jogged. Though, this didn't make any difference at all. I was soaked through and through. But, instead of being angry at being soaked, I was pleased. The cool rain felt nice in the hot summer air. It was refreshing and left me feeling cleansed. The only thing to lament was walking into the air conditioned housing unit, a chilling event indeed.

As I look back upon this class, I see that I was not at the top of my game. I can see that the emotional turmoil, mixed with not enough sleep, caused a reduction in the quality of my instruction. I also see a profound difference in myself. I see a man who wouldn't have even shown up several years ago. I see a man who was willing to do the right thing even though no real consequence would have come from doing the wrong thing. It's as my dad says, I can do the right thing or the wrong thing. It's me that has to live with it. And with that, I chose to do the right thing.