Like Grendel, I have a powerful mom. She saves my ass when I call her at 9:30 in the evening. “I’ve been trying to prepare class all day!,” I say. “The entire day! And I still don’t know what I’m going to do with them tomorrow!”

“Okay,” she says. “We can figure something out. What are they supposed to be working on?”

I tell her that their first big assignment is something called a process essay. I don’t even know what a process essay is. I more or less copied the sample syllabus that was given to me, verbatim, and now that we’re in the semester I am seriously regretting this; the syllabus isn’t the clear map it had appeared to be. On closer inspection, it’s a document full of mysterious heiroglyphics, unhelpful labels like “in-class writing exercise” branded across whole days; I’m shackled to agendas that I don’t even understand, and discovering whole levels of variables I hadn’t even counted upon.

“Ah, a process essay,” she says. “Right. I’ve done those before.” Turns out a process essay is where you write about something that you know how to do well, and you describe the steps in order so that someone else, after reading your essay, will know how to do it too. “It sounds easy,” she says, “but don’t worry. They’ll have some trouble with it.”

My mother thinks. “Okay, all right,” she says. “So here’s what you do. Break them up into groups. Groups of like…maybe four. Have each person make a list of ten things they know how to do well. They will have a hard time thinking of things they know how to do well. You may need to suggest stuff. So then, when they’re done with that, have each of them pick one. And they write down the steps. And then, have them put their notebooks away. And each one of them does a little presentation for the other ones, describing how to do the thing. Have the other ones do critique, if there’s something they don’t understand, or something out of order. All this will probably take more than an hour. Then, at the end, have them give their presentations for the class. Or maybe…have them nominate the best presentation from each group and give that to the class. This all shouldn’t take you very much more prep time. You should spend another half an hour max on this tonight.”

Saved my ass, she did. And she even sounded happy to be asked.

What the teacher learned: You need to have a teaching fairy god-familymember. If you’re not blessed with a teaching mom, make some teaching friends. They already know how to do what you couldn’t figure out in eight hours of skimming the internet and hyperventilating.

Also, I am pretty much ready to write my own process essay on ‘how to fill 90 minutes of class…once.’ One session down, 23 to go.

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