A quick guide to using the hypothes.is LMS plugin

 Thanks to hypothes.is for announcing that the pilot program for using this tool with Blackboard is free due to Coronavirus cancelations and closures.

This is a very quick guide to using the hypothes.is plugin with Blackboard to annotate texts with your class. This enables all of your students to mark up a text in a private space without an additional login. With this tool students can write comments, provide links, and use images and videos to annotate a website, PDF, or document on Google Drive.

This first video will explain what hypothes.is is and go through the basic features of the tool. You may consider sharing this video with your students, as it demonstrates how to annotate a text using hypothes.is.

Click the play button for the hypothes.is basics video

Here is the (cut and paste-able) text of the assignment as I post it on Blackboard:

Each students needs to contribute a minimum of 5 annotations and 2 replies. Here are examples of the types of annotations that might be helpful for you and your classmates. You can certainly expand on this list and annotate in any way you find useful!

  1. A summary/paraphrase of specific parts of the article you found interesting 
  2. Definitions of terms used in the article (with links)
  3. References to people/places/things mentioned in the article (with links or images/videos)
  4. Opinions (respectfully, with evidence)
  5. Questions 
  6. Links to related materials or further evidence on the same subject 

Also, here is a blank copy of the PROBE rubric I use for “grading” participation. The students collaboratively define each category the second day of class, and self evaluate twice a term. The rubric governs all in-person and online participation, as is adapted from a version provide by Cristina Garcia in our Diversity & Inclusion Office. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1N4LYLwa2lSq9BizDaJDimOsWY83UMFqqQc1iL2KEpfY/edit?usp=sharing

This next video demonstrates how to add a hypothes.is link to your Blackboard site. Instructors and administrators have the privileges to add hypothes.is links to an LMS for sites with the pilot program installed.

Also, hypothes.is has added a gradebook feature, explained here on their website.


And here are the generic directions they have for adding the app in the course.


For those who wish to use the hypothes.is tool as a standalone application outside of your LMS, here is my walk through of how to create a private group to share with your class.

For the philosophy behind why I use hypothes.is and my pedogogical approach to social annotation, please watch my presentation from the iAnnotate conference:

Or read my book chapter from Digital Reading and Writing in Composition Studies


Please feel free to email me at alicastro [at] stevenson [ dot] edu or tweet @amandalicastro with questions! Good luck!

MLA 2018

“Hacking Grading”
Instructor feedback on writing can have an immense impact on students. Research on writing pedagogy demonstrates that students need and appreciate thoughtful feedback on their drafts in order to grow as writers. Ideally, we would be able to have one-on-one conferences with every student at every stage of writing every assignment. But due to heavy teaching loads, increasing class sizes, and limited office space/time, this is not possible for a vast majority of instructors. Therefore many – if not all – of us who teach writing intensive courses are constantly in search of grading hacks. Not only is grading student writing time consuming, it is often frustrating when the time spent seems to be ignored, misunderstood, or not internalized. These struggles are not in your head – a quick Compile search will show you hundreds of studies documenting that students have difficulty transferring the revisions suggested in written comments to future assignments. Furthermore, the traditional methods of writing in the margins using ink or electronic commenting features (for example Track Changes in Word or Suggesting mode in Google Docs) are not effective, or possible, for multimodal writing assignments including blog posts, timelines, videos, infographics, etc. After exploring a variety of approaches throughout my teaching career, I am sharing my grading hacks here as part of the 2018 MLA panel on “Hacking the Scholarly Workflow.”

The hack I describe will include pre-writing exercises and video feedback, but will focus primarily on the second phase. These tips will work for any assignment collected digitally, including Word documents, LMS posts, or media-rich compositions created in an online forum. After years of trying many platforms, I now exclusively teach using WordPress blogs. The multitude of reasons why is fodder for another post (see posts by the CUNY folks who converted me: Jim Groom, Joe Ugoretz, and Matt Gold), but can be summed up as a dedication to teaching students to learn tools that are useful and applicable outside of academia, and to have control over my own domains and data. Also, all of my assignments are to some degree multimodal, meaning they combine text-based writing with images, videos, hyperlinks, graphics, or other media. I actually wrote my dissertation and this article on the importance of teaching multimodal writing if you want to know more. One of the questions I receive most often about assigning digital compositions, is how I grade assignments that are multimodal and “turned in” on a blog. Here, I offer my response, and hope it will translate to a wide variety of writing projects.

Pre-writing exercises
Teaching students to compose in any form requires careful scaffolding. For major assignments I provide students with time to draft in class, using a variety of techniques from Pomodoro writing sprints, to design thinking brainstorming sessions, and of course lots of daily journaling. Almost all writing projects also go through peer review, organized differently for each assignment. Approaches include reverse outling, guided questions, or formal editing sessions with style sheets for upper level courses. For major – or “high-stakes” –  assignments, I serve as their peer reviewer in face-to-face conferences (my institution encourages us to cancel up to 3 class sessions to be replaced with conference time with students). Therefore, when it comes time for my feedback on final drafts they should have spent a good deal of time considering previous comments and re-writing. This allows me to focus on the top three elements to prioritize in future assignments. Yes, I really try to limit myself to discussing only three areas of revision to focus on for each student.

In order to provide personalized feedback on multimodal blog posts I use screen capture videos that allow me to talk through and visually highlight elements in a student’s work. The field of composition and rhetoric has explored the benefits of audio feedback across decades of scholarship:
http://comppile.org/wpa/bibliographies/Bib26/Audio_Response.pdf. You can see that some of the articles listed in the Compile Bibliography, compiled and annotated by Shannon Mrkich and Jeff Sommers, date back to 1958 when audio feedback was done via cassette recorders, so clearly this is not a new approach. In comparison to written feedback, audio feedback gives the students a chance to hear the voice of the instructor, adding clarity and a personal touch to the comments. It also eliminates the scary and often difficult to decipher “red ink” that has been scrutinized extensively in composition studies. You can see many of the more recent articles included in the Compile Bibliography explore screen capture or video feedback rather than solely audio feedback. The video element of the screen capture gives the extra dimension of the visual walk-through, so the student sees their post while hearing me describe the points where they excelled and the areas they need to work on.

Before recording, I read the paper carefully and make notes when I encounter lovely writing, brilliant insight, and careful reflection on the assignment topic, as well as moments of ambiguity, problematic logic, and mechanical errors. These notes are then prioritized and used as a rough transcript for my video feedback to avoid rambling or disjointed commentary. Each video begins by highlighting positive attributes of the student’s work, and then leads into explaining two or three areas of improvement with examples. I end the videos with their grade, which ensures every student must watch the video all the way through (the grade is not available to them anywhere else for a couple of days). I aim to keep videos under five minutes long, ideally hovering around the three minute mark. Keep in mind, I use this for undergraduate papers from 3 to 10 pages in length. I have not attempted the same for longer, more in-depth research papers at the graduate level. I do however know that several of my colleagues and several of the articles on this process show its efficacy for basic (or remedial) writers.

The image shows a sample ofstudent writing accompanied by a image of Maryland. A portion of writing is highlighted in blue.The image above shows screenshot from a sample video in which I am highlighting an area of a student’s paper while verbally explaining my advice.

This method also allows me to switch tabs on the browser during the recording in order to show the student additional resources, such as OWL at Purdue exercises, language from the assignment sheet, or specific areas of the rubric that correspond to my comments.

The image shows a screenshot from the site OWL at Purdue. The page provided instruction on using commas.The image above shows screenshot from a sample video in which I indicate which exercises on OWL the student would benefit from reviewing.

Connecting my observations to online tools they can use to improve their writing in the future provides students with further explanation and alternative language in case they have trouble understanding my comments.

A grid in various shades of blue labeled "ENG 151/152 Common Rubric" is displayed. The image above shows screenshot from a sample video in which I am describe how my comments correspond to the department rubric.

Referring directly to the assignment sheet and/or rubric demonstrates exactly where the assignment explains the required elements I am requesting be strengthened or improved, reminding the student to read closely and follow instructions carefully (this also eliminates the “I didn’t know we were suppose to do that…” response). As a instructor, constantly connecting my comments back to the learning objectives outlined on the rubric forces me to reflect on how clearly my assignments adhere to the goals set forth by our program.

In order to record and share these videos with students there are several options for free – or freemium – tools. As a Mac user, I rely on Quicktime to record videos. I also teach in a Mac lab, so I can use the same tool to instruct my students to make their own videos. It is important to consider which tools your student demographic will have access to when choosing your platform. For PC users, I recommend JING or SnagIt by TechSmith. There is also an Adobe option for those – like members of our film department – who teach this suite of products, and many LMS platforms include an audio feedback option (I hear Blackboard’s version is fairly user-friendly). For audio only options, most smartphones come preloaded with a free audio recorder, and Audacity is an open source tool that will do the trick.

Aside from considering which tool to use to record the videos, it is also essential to ensure that students can listen and save the videos on a variety of devices. Therefore, I save each video to a (carefully labeled) Dropbox folder using AssignmentTitle_LastName as the file name for each student. This keeps all of the videos organized on my computer, but also allows me to access them via my phone or any internet-enabled device. I use Dropbox because of the ease of link sharing across platforms. The only drawback is that you can quickly hit your storage limit if you teach multiple classes a term. This can be remedied by paying for extra storage, or by deleting old videos each year.  Alternatively, you can use any cloud storage service – such as Google Drive – or save the videos to your institution’s network if there is ample storage and link sharing capabilities enabled. Just make sure that each student can only access their own video. It would violate FERPA to share an entire folder of videos with the whole class. I find it best to share individual links via email (or your LMS) with a personalized note. I typically type out a form letter, and then customize when needed. Sharing the link in an email, rather than attaching the video as a file, is much more effective for getting around size limits and spam filters. But, it is a good idea to remind students to save the video to their personal computers for future reference.

I must thank my friend Andrew Lucchesi for first introducing me to this process back in graduate school when we were both balancing a heavy class load on top of working toward graduation. Andrew convinced me of the benefits the videos offer to students with disabilities, who may struggle to read handwritten comments or digital marginalia when using screen reading technology. If you have a student who is hard of hearing, I recommend either providing captions for the video, or writing out the transcript in the email you send. I’ve also found this to be a useful technique for instructors who have disabilities and need alternative methods of grading. In fact, several of my colleagues have adopted my method after hearing rave reviews from students. It helped one of the instructors to overcome difficulties in physically dealing with large piles of papers, and it aided another in cutting down on time when teaching a 5/5 load.

Student Reactions
I have noticed that providing video feedback has improved responses on my institutional course evaluations, as these specifically ask if the course meets the learning objectives. But perhaps more significantly, students constantly refer to the video feedback in both their anonymous course evaluations comments and in their final reflection letters. It is the overwhelming gratitude and enthusiasm from the students that solidified this “hack” as a regular part of my teaching practice. As evidence, here is a small selection of unsolicited comments from the anonymous evaluations voluntarily completed by my students in Fall 2017:

“For the first paper she sent us each an individualized feedback video going over the paper, which was nice for people like me who are too shy to ask for direct help. All of her feedback was always reasonable and attainable and I feel as if I have become a better reader and writer, solely thanks to her.”

“[…] the video of comments on my essays were very helpful. Most teachers just write notes and it may be hard to understand or just isn’t explained fully. The videos actually explained what should be fixed and how it can be fixed.”

“[…] the grading videos were the most helpful and engaging because it allowed me to see the whole process and how everything comes or should come together…”

“I really appreciate the videos that show us how to improve our writing!”

As an unintended benefit, I found out that students share my videos with the writing tutors in our Academic Link tutoring center. Several of these professional tutors have emailed me thanking me for the useful feedback that helps them tailor their writing sessions with my students. Between the positive responses from students, faculty, and the writing tutors over the last five years, I can say that my experience using video feedback does match the case-studies that explicate the advantages of similar pedagogical approaches.

Although this method will take some time to get accustomed to, it is well worth the benefit to students. I’m happy to answer questions via twitter @amandalicastro or via email.

Thinking and Writing Through New Media

Here is the syllabus for a new course I will be teaching at the NYU Gallatin school this Fall. The course is a first year writing seminar I designed called “Thinking and Writing Through New Media.” The goal is for students to critically examine the past, present, and future of writing technologies as a lens to understanding their own writing process and the impact of new media on the way we think. The three major writing projects were inspired by Sondra Perl’s “Digital Literacy Narratives,” Miriam Posner’s “Device Narratives,” and Kari Kraus’s “Design Fiction.” I will post these assignment sheets throughout the semester, but will explain the concepts to anyone who is interested now. Your feedback is most welcome.

Here is the site URL: https://wp.nyu.edu/licastro_fall14/

Sample Teaching Materials

This post contains sample teaching materials to demonstrate courses I have taught in the past at a variety of institutions. This material is available to use under my CC license (described in the footer of this site), with attribution. Feedback and questions are welcome in the comments.

Early American I & II: Canon Wars

Here you will find my syllabi, final assignment, and rationale for an two course series taught at Marywood University on Early American Literature.


Composition: Riots and Revolutions

Here is a sample syllabus from a first-year writing course that teaches academic research and writing skills through the lens of modern, international riots and revolutions. Social media, digital archives, and other online resources are used to develop digital literacy skills.




Borough of Manhattan County Community College, New York, NY

Graduate Intern/Adjunct Instructor of English, 2010-12

English 101: Composition

This course is tailored every semester to the final exam readings selected by the department. Themes from these readings are used to prepare readings and design an assignment sequence which includes provocations, in-class and online discussions, drafts, group presentations, peer reviews, and research papers. Focus is on developing strong thesis statements and supporting arguments with evidence from the text.

English 201: Introduction to Literature

Using a theme, such as “Dangers of Technology,” this course examines literary genres (drama, novels, memoirs, poetry, short stories) through critical theory. A meta-awareness of methodology is developed through the use of innovative technology. A sample reading list, assignments, and student work can be found on the course blog: http://thedangersoftechnology086.ws.gc.cuny.edu/

Marywood University, Scranton, PA  

Adjunct Instructor, 2008-10

Early American Literature I and II: “Canon Wars”

This two course series invites students to critically examine the contents of the Norton Anthology of Literature, especially the diversity of authors included or excluded in each edition, in order to question how the proliferation and adoption of these textbooks can shape the invisible boarders of our discipline.

World Literature: “An Epic Quest”

Moving both chronologically and geographically this course examines the genre of the epic through literary theory, especially cultural and textual studies. Students work in groups to present critical analyses of each text leading to a final assignment in which students draw from biographical research and creative writing to compare texts.

Composition: “Riots and Revolutions”

This first-year writing course uses the lens of modern, international riots and revolutions to invite students to develop strong arguments using academic research and writing techniques. Social media, digital archives, and other online resources are used to develop digital literacy skills.                                        

Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA  Adjunct Instructor, 2008-10

Composition for Pharmacy Majors

Targeted specifically for students accepted into the competitive pharmacy program at Wilkes University, this course focuses on developing the literacy skills needed to excel in STEM fields.

Early American Literature

This upper-level seminar presented several difficult full-length texts and critical material to advanced humanities majors. The focus was on developing close reading and critical analysis skills.                                             

King’s College, Wilkes-Barre, PA  

Adjunct Instructor, 2008-10  

Writing Skills

This course was mandatory for all students who did not pass the writing component of the entrance exam at King’s College. The department developed the syllabus and selected the textbook with a focus on grammar and basic writing skills. As the instructor I included supplemental exercises and assignments to exercise these skills.


A portfolio-style writing course, that used process-based pedagogy to develop academic writing and research skills through assignments built on the rhetorical modes.                                                 

Harold Washington Community College, Chicago, IL

Supplemental Instructor, 2007-08

Writing Skills and Research Writing

As the internship component of my Teaching in Two-Year Colleges Certificate, I worked as a teaching assistant to a full-time faculty member who mentored me through designing assignments, grading student work, and tutoring students one-on-one in the writing center.


During my career as both a student and an educator, I have embraced digital tools. My work has allowed me to create robust virtual learning environments that support, amplify, and extend the learning process. As a pedagogue, my use of multi-user networking sites open new doors for my students, fostering a participatory culture 1 while cultivating technological literacy. In practicing meta-medium fluency, students learn computational thinking skills which they can apply across the curriculum 2. I practice this theory by focusing on three essential elements: access, creativity, and collaboration.

Access: I want students to have access to the course material in the legal application (“the ability to enter, speak with, or use”), the cognitive application (“the state or quality of being approachable”), and the technological use (“to locate (data) for transfer from one part of a computer system to another”) of the term 3. I build my course site using a WordPress blog and make the site open to the public, thereby extending the boundaries of the physical classroom, and providing students with the ability to connect our course content to work done in their academic, professional, and personal lives. Discussing how this access changes our work in the class and our culture at large leads to questions of digital citizenship such as identity formation, privacy, and copyright. The simultaneous attention to medium and method bolsters the development of student’s meta-awareness of their own understanding and learning processes.

Creativity: In order to foster continuous creative thinking, I engage my students at every stage of the learning process 4. While I create the infrastructure and administrative features of the blog, the students contribute the majority of the content. They integrate and create multimedia elements to enhance their posts, encouraging the students to compose mulitmodally, and to analyze visual and verbal rhetoric. For example, students create projects that can include video, images, and sound using cloud-based presentation software to present their research to their peers. By re-imagining and remixing their work in a variety of media the students practice computational thinking, requiring them to be adaptive, and challenging them to be innovative. (An example course site is live at http://thedangersoftechnology086.ws.gc.cuny.edu/)

Collaboration: As meta-media are by nature social, the skills associated are best learned through collaboration. The opportunity for “collaboration by difference” is created by the diverse backgrounds, ranges of knowledge, and varied experience levels of CUNY students 5. This approach thrives on difference in perspective; students analyze these differences in order to understand what drives their own meaning-making processes. Therefore, I strive to build a framework for social knowledge construction in my classroom, through both virtual and physical interaction. Students work together to generate ideas, compose drafts, create presentations, and review and revise their work – all made possible through the facilitation of digital tools designed for collaborative work.

Thinking critically about how technology changes the way we think and work creates a positive feedback loop; it helps students learn, it helps me to teach. I encourage students to take risks and experiment by stressing that “failing-forward” is an essential part of learning. I facilitate this approach through the cultivation of habits of mind, guiding students to formulate critical questions, develop information literacy, and practice oral and written communication skills. These are fundamental concepts in any discipline, and are invaluable throughout life.





  1. Jenkins, Henry. Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. (NYU Press: 2006).
  2. Campbell, Gardner. “Media Fluency?” http://www.gardnercampbell.net/blog1/?p=1238. (Posted May 17, 2010).
  3. “Access.” Dictionary.com (Accessed March 11, 2012).
  4. In 1961 J.C. R. Licklider said “No one knows what it would do to a creative brain to think creatively continuously… interactive computers can give us our first look at unfettered thought.” Source: Waldrop, Mitchell. The Dream Machine: J. C. R. Licklider and the Revolution that Made Computing Personal. (Penguin Books, 2001).
  5. Davidson, Cathy.Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. (Viking Press: 2011).

Tales of a Freeway Flyer

My First Article for the GC Advocate:

Considering the frequency and urgency of articles across both academic publications and, although less so, public news sources warning students not to go to graduate school, it would be ignorant of me not to ask myself why I am entering my first year of a humanities doctoral program at CUNY. I do not have a trust fund or a stable supplemental income, therefore I am the prime target of these authors. However, I am not entering into this solely for the love of reading or with the naive belief that I will land the perfect tenure track job at MLA while finishing the last pages of my dissertation. My masters program prepared me and trained me for the current reality. The teaching in two year colleges internship and certificate program at DePaul University in Chicago gave me the practical knowledge, mentorship, and experience needed to enter the workforce with an M.A., and that is exactly what I did. Within two weeks of graduation I was offered classes as an adjunct instructor at seven different colleges in Pennsylvania. As perhaps some of you are aware, most colleges only allow adjuncts to teach two or three sections a semester, so I taught the maximum possible: three schools, two classes at each school, and over 120 students. Most people call this insanity. However, despite the hardships I faced as a freeway flyer, it was the best experience of my life.

To be clear, I am not supporting the abuse and exploitation of adjuncts, because it is the students who suffer from the working conditions of the contingent work force in higher education. However, for a twenty-something without a family to support, teaching a plethora of classes at multiple institutions was a rewarding and informative process that led to immense personal and professional development. The learning curve was steep. First, there was the culture shock of moving from Chicago to a middle-of-nowhere coal mining town that inspired a satirical representation as the setting of a factious paper supply company office. My quick commute on the Chicago El train was replaced with a forty-minute commute through the mountains navigating the constantly under construction highways to make class times that were barely an hour apart. This only intensified the fact that I was lost in a world of prepping and teaching three different courses.

A lot of ink has been spilt on why teaching your own course for the first time is terrifying. In m first semester as an adjunct I was faced with constructing three composition courses, a remedial writing course, and an Early American Literature course on three different campuses with three different sets of departmental requirements and guidelines. It was impossible to hide my performance anxiety. Dr. Laurie McMillian, the interim chair at the university where I was teaching a variety of courses, gave me some sensible advice: “You don’t need to reinvent the wheel.” She was right. Even though I had not taken an Early American Literature class since undergrad, and had never taught from a grammar-based workbook, I did have training in the classroom. I was not only armed with the wisdom garnered from the articles on pedagogy by Bartholomae, Murray, Lunsford, and Elbow that I devoured in my coursework at DePaul, but I also discovered brilliant blogs such as Prof.Hacker, which offer practical approaches to teaching in today’s technologically advanced classrooms. To my dismay, many tenets of the teaching philosophy I composed were replaced by realistic approaches to the limits of my students. I quickly realized that my idealistic notion of assigning dozens of novels was absurd. Not only did I need to teach from an anthology, I also needed to search for the cheapest one available. The chairs who hired me were more than willing to provide me with sample syllabi and desk copies of potential textbooks, which I enthusiastically spent the summer annotating and analyzing until I had composed my course outlines. So even though my color-coded filing system complete with traveling filing cabinet failed, I learned two key tools for success: first, most department heads want their faculty to succeed and many schools have resources for new teachers, and, second, technology can help you conquer the classroom.

As a born digital Jerome McGann groupie, my proclivity for technology informs the central doctrine of my political approach to teaching. I strongly believe we should be teaching students technological skills across the disciplines. But as many of you are aware, finding support for digital endeavors is unbelievably frustrating, if not infuriating. I needed to build six courses on three separate LMS formats, and due to the bureaucracy of human resources, I had very little time to orient myself with the systems. My inquires about faculty workshops were met by a middle-aged woman in a kitten sweatshirt and Crocs who printed out the 400 page Moodle manual and handed it to me – single sided. Clearly, I was on my own. The sink-or-swim style of survival actually benefitted me greatly. I was forced to teach myself how to build an online course and navigate various models of smart classrooms, and those skills have saved me every semester. The freedom of paperless grading is essential to my success as a freeway flyer. My wrath for the Windows operating systems aside, Track Changes can be a powerful teaching tool and an advantageous agent for managing hundreds of students’ papers.  After coming to terms with the snide responses from anti-tech colleagues, I found a community of like-minded professionals online who nurtured my desire to present students with the digital tools that are redefining the education system.

Aside from navigating virtual worlds, adapting to the office culture of three different schools was a daily challenge. At times, this was a scary and hostile world.  These encounters often made me question my desire to pursue my doctoral degree. Luckily, the faculty members who were kind, enthusiastic, and welcoming far overshadowed these ill-spirited apparitions. Three of my colleagues invited me to join a panel at CEA last spring, giving me the opportunity to present at a conference with funding from our university. One of those professors, a CUNY alumnus, encouraged me to apply to this program and advised me through the application process. Despite a significant age gap, I fostered great friendships with my fellow faculty, and these are important professional relationships that will be fruitful throughout my career. I learned to constantly contact the chairs of each department, keeping them abreast not only of my triumphs, but also my concerns in the classroom, and the result was a steady supply of courses each semester. Even when an unprecedented drop in spring enrollment devastated the region, my chairs fought to give me at least one course. I was not only a teacher to my students, but also a student to my fellow teachers. On the same note, my administrative assistants were possibly the most vital resource during my time as an adjunct. There is no possible way to manage copy quotas, departmental meetings, registrar deadlines, campus calendars and grading procedures without them. If there is one valuable piece of advice I can share, it is to respect your office managers. They can and will rescue you when all else fails.

I have to admit, there were times when I thought I was going to fail. Upon reading the writing samples of my composition students in Northeastern Pennsylvania, I thought that there was nothing I could teach them. Unlike the overtly diverse, street smart, low-income population of the urban community college in Chicago where I had interned, the students in these rural suburbs seemed privileged, homogenous, and apathetic. Their diagnostic essays were polished and organized, with clear thesis statements, and well constructed support. However, one truism echoed across the pages: the students professed their abhorrence of writing. Since the majority of the students came from the surrounding towns, they had all been educated in Pennsylvania public schools wrought with corruption (Google NEPA teacher kickbacks). They complained of inadequate teachers who only provided exercises designed to help them obtain high scores on the PSSA tests. Each of their essays was a formulaic replica of the last without any personality or creativity expressed within the well constructed lines. I did not need to teach them basic writing skills, they needed to find their voices. We worked on using critical thinking skills to develop opinions on controversial current events. We debated, defined terms, and read newspaper articles. They challenged me to change my approach to composition. I adjusted not only the course objectives, but the assignments every semester to meet the needs of that particular student population.

The hundreds of students who sat in front of me each day taught me more than any textbook ever could. Unfortunately, it is from the extreme cases, the “bad” students, that I have learned the most. In my first semester of teaching I had a remedial writing class. I was privy to the scores they received on a very basic grammar test, and all of the students had missed more than 50% of the questions. When the first full length paper from one freshman football recruit came back practically perfect, I knew I was in for a fight. As he slouched back in my office chair, headphones blaring, no books or pens in tow, he mumbled something about his coach “helping” him write his paper. With his arms folded and sunglasses on, his coach declared to me, without guilt or regret, that his facilitation was acceptable because it was the student’s ideas, but he had put them on paper. I was outraged. My chair informed me that this was not unusual, and that the most I could do was fail him on that assignment. The administration did not remove him from the class, nor did they suspend him from play. This Division III school made athletics a higher priority than academic integrity. The next semester a student forged an e-mail from me and delivered it to academic services as proof that I was changing her grade from a D to a B. When the director called me with the student and her mother in her office demanding the grade change, I laughed. My outrage was replaced by confidence in my documentation of this student’s work through my online course site. Although I defended my position, this girl paid tuition, therefore she remains a student in that university despite this astonishing act of academic dishonestly. These are the realities of academia today.

The most radical realization about how the private university system works came from a student in my most recent summer composition course. Her diagnostic was at the lowest level I had ever seen in a college classroom. From what I could abstract from her remarkably poor writing was that she was a foreign student who had transferred from a large public school to take this class for the third time. Her ESL issues seemed beyond my ability to address, especially considering the high level of writing I received from the other students in the class, even those from her country of origin. I contacted my chair and international student services to assist me in providing supplemental support for her. Since this was a summer class on a compressed schedule, by the time a representative from the school had assessed her situation, the student had handed in an obviously plagiarized paper. The chair of my department said he had never seen such blatant plagiarism, and that he would fully support my decision to fail her. However, the representative wanted to speak with the student to ensure it was intentional plagiarism and not simply a misunderstanding due to cultural differences. During that conversation the student confessed that she had not taken the TOEFL exam and did not believe herself to be capable of composing a paper without outside help. Even after this stunning admission, the representative warned me that the student would not be removed from my course because the university did not want to damage its relationship with the embassy. When she failed the next assignment, she promised me that she would revise it and declared her dedication to my class, while at the same time threatening academic services that she would tell her embassy that the university treated foreign students unfairly.  Further investigation revealed that the student had falsified not only her test scores, but also her address and sponsorship information. Now it was my integrity that was being questioned, and I was forced to use every resource at my disposal to ensure that neither my standing nor the standards of my classroom would be jeopardized any further. While in the previous cases I conceded to the pressure from the administration, this time, I held my ground.

I know tenure track jobs are scarce. I have read the dozens of articles and hundreds of comments that demoralize those going into graduate studies in the humanities. To the naysayers I ask, “Who will be teaching your children some day?” I do not believe, as the cynical ABD once proclaimed, “That a monkey can teach composition.” If you are disgusted by the injustices I have described, then consider that we need highly educated, well trained professors in our universities. It is not for some lofty love of literature that I dream will manifest itself into a million dollar book deal that I am in graduate school. Despite earning under the poverty line, without benefits, as an adjunct, I refuse to retreat back to the world of public relations where I could have a high paying “real job.” I am dedicated to enacting the change necessary to ensure your children will LEARN. The students in my classroom will not be given grades in exchange for performance on the field or tuition checks paid in full. I am here at CUNY pursuing my path to a PhD because of my time as an adjunct. To my fellow students, I ask “Why are you here?” The day will come when the lack of funding demands that you adjunct, and upon graduation it is statistically proven that you will spend time outside the tenure system, so take this time and explore the world of teaching. That is why I am here. I want to teach. Do you?