PALS Summer Post Roundup

Site visits and page views are lean for PALS between the May and Labor Day. A summer readership drop-off is a common occurrence for many academic blogs, perhaps especially so for a blog focusing exclusively on teaching. Our traffic successes follow the rhythms of the academic school year. (You can read more about our traffic flow here). Our visits are robust during the fall and spring terms, but drop off during holidays and extended breaks. Again, the readership drop-off phenomenon isn’t exclusive to PALS, as these tweets from Robert Keys show.


By the way, if you’re not visiting Keys’ Adverts 250 Project throughout the entire year, you’re missing out!

We even joked about this drop-off earlier in the summer. Our joking paid off and turned into one of our summer blog posts! Side Note: We’re always looking for guest post pitches. Hit us up with your ideas!

The summer months have always been lean for PALS since our rollout in the late summer of 2015. Our readership has climbed over the subsequent years, but the summer drop-off has remained a constant. However, the summer of 2018 topped all previous summers for site views and visitors, no doubt facilitated by a rather substantial uptick in content generated by our regular and guest contributors. PALS usually takes the summer months off, a practice reflecting the fact we understand our success is tied to the rhythms of the academic year.

However, in the summer of 2018 we posted a lot more than usual, which might explain our uptick in visitors to the site. Today’s post is a rundown of our summer 2018 content; it covers May through Labor Day. Think of it as an extended ICYMI as your semester starts to ramp up!

Teaching (Vocation Optional) by Meagan Ciesla

I bring this up because the idea of teaching as a vocation has been on my mind. For many of us in academia, we came to teaching through some other pathway: an interest in lab research, reading that kept us up at night, writing we didn’t want to stop doing. And although teaching is for many enjoyable work, it is often not a calling, but a career.

Teaching Japanese Internment Using Julie Otsuka’s When The Emperor Was Divine by Jessica Thelen

Since I teach at a small, predominantly white institution, I knew that bringing in historical contexts before starting Otsuka’s novel would greatly contribute to students’ understanding and engagement with the text. This was made clear when, on the first day of this mini unit, I asked my students if they had learned about Japanese Internment in school or in some other context, and only a handful of students raised their hands out of a class of twenty-eight.

Dear College Professor: On Your Incoming Students by Clay Zuba

I’m a high school English teacher. I’m writing to you regarding our students, their preparation for college, and how you can best build on this preparation in your classrooms. I freely admit that I am still learning to teach my own students. And I wouldn’t presume to tell you what to do. But in my younger days, almost every faculty member with whom I spoke at least once said, “students today . . .”

School’s Out: How to Focus Your Writing With a Summer Writing Group by Randi Tanglen

As many of us know from teaching writing workshops and incorporating peer revision into the classes we teach, writing is a collaborative and community process. Our students’ writing benefits from the feedback and support their peers provide. Yet for many of us, the demands of teaching and instruction make our own scholarly and creative writing an isolating and solitary process. Further, because many of us who read the PALS blog tend to emphasize teaching and pedagogy, our writing might not always be the priority we would like it to be on a day-to-day basis. A summer writing group may help you and your colleagues address concerns about writing in isolation and how to prioritize your own writing.

Some End-of-Semester Thoughts on Academic Struggle by Caitlin Kelly

In my current position I have the opportunity to serve as advisor to first-year students and this was my first time to do that. In one way or another, almost every conversation with my advisees turned to struggle. While some of the struggle they face comes from outside of the university community, a lot of it comes from within. I can only speak to the students I’ve taught but one of the things I’ve noticed about selective institutions is that there is a sense that all high-aptitude students are capable of anything if only they try hard enough.

Schooled in Barbecue by Thomas Hallock

I confess, I had other expectations. Being summer, the time when teachers become learners, I asked Mr. Walker to teach me how to cook ribs. He agreed to school me.

The Field of Reads: Weird Adventures in Course Design and Planning by Greg Specter

The assigned books in my fall honors class are a weird mélange. Notice that I didn’t say “The books that I assigned…” A few of the included texts come via a menu of options generated by a committee of instructors teaching different sections of an honors class in the fall.

Intro to Postmodernism: Questioning the Truth Claim by Matthew Luter

Literary postmodernism is a tough concept to introduce to my high school students. Many students have never heard the term postmodern at all; a few are aware of it as a kind of buzzword that has become a right-wing boogeyman; and more than a few are a little turned off by how academically highfalutin’ it sounds. In order to introduce it to my students, I developed a set of tasks that lean into rather than steer away from the complications of literary postmodernism.

Writing Academically with Emotional Clarity by Brianne Jaquette

I also have come to realize that I didn’t just need to write more; I needed more explanations for what makes good writing. I think the focus on what makes for competent writing in academia is a bit off. Yes, people care about our argument. They care about our sources and our research. But rarely is anyone talking about the quality of our writing, and we fall into bad habits of super long explanations and wordy clauses. We think we already know how to write, so we do not ask anyone about the clarity of our sentences. We only ask, “Does this argument make sense?”

Making Space for Voice and Choice: Assignment Design in an Online Course by Jacinta Yanders

However, in recent semesters, I’ve been thinking more and more about student ownership in the classroom and working to provide opportunities in which students have a hand in shaping the course. In the spring semester First Year Writing course I taught, for example, I had students generate the assessment criteria for their essays and vote on what they believed to be the most important elements of that criteria. By this point, students had seen and worked with sample essays as well as given feedback on drafts from their classmates. They had some sense of concrete moves that came across well to them as readers and other choices that hindered them. Collectively, they were responsible for setting the stakes for the essays and ultimately revising their work to meet those stakes.

This is not a Desk Copy by Greg Specter

It is no wonder the books start getting beaten down physically just by going in and out of bags. Corners dinged. Corners bent. Corners peeling. Stains. The physical destruction of my books is disconcerting for someone that takes care of their books. I take pride in reading a book and finishing it in mint condition. The semester is cruel to my books.


Schooled in Barbecue

PALS is pleased to present a guest post taking us to the world of food blogging, specifically the glorious, smoky world of the delicious, time-honored traditions of barbecue. A few weeks ago we joked on Twitter that we were going to transition to becoming a barbecue blog due to the summer’s natural fall in readership. Thomas Hallock, our guest poster for this wonderful piece, graciously stepped up to the plate (maybe it’s better to say the fire?) to provide us with a timely summer post on barbecue and what happens when instructors, so often embedded in our work as teachers, step back and take on the mantel of student. We hope you enjoy this piece!


Modecai Walker - Ribs
Mordecai Walker at his Rib Corral

Mordecai Walker, 94, has been barbecuing a long time. He was born in 1924 on the Fourth of July, an African American in Jim Crow Florida. When he was six, Walker’s uncle and father got paid by the Tampa politician Peter O. Knight to cook a half cow. They kindled a fire under a metal box spring. The uncle started drinking, however, leaving young Mordecai to stoke the fire all night.

With Mr. Walker’s bbq, the key ingredient is smoke.

I confess, I had other expectations. Being summer, the time when teachers become learners, I asked Mr. Walker to teach me how to cook ribs. He agreed to school me.

Southern bbq is easily romanticized. As a transplanted northerner, a white bourgie married to an Alabama native, I commonly cast my food as quest. I have dragged my mostly-vegetarian wife along the Great Southern Rib Trail, from the Rendezvous in Memphis to Tuscaloosa’s Dreamland. We have journeyed the four corners of the bbq map — from Fort Worth to Kansas City, central Virginia to Morven, Georgia — seeking perfection in sweet, fatty meat.

Surely Mr. Walker held some secrets. Maybe a marinade or dry rub? A butcher on the Southside I had overlooked? On the morning of July 3, I picked up Mordecai Walker to go shopping. He took me to Save-a-Lot, a discount grocer I typically avoid. We bought three slabs of shrink-wrapped ribs ($7.99 a pop), pre-made slaw, a pint of cider vinegar, and off-brand sauce.

When we passed briquettes in the aisle, Mr. Walker shuffled by. “Do we need charcoal,” I asked. Walker ignored me. He told me to bring firewood, preferably oak.

The next morning, sweltering before sunrise, I quartered a wheelbarrow of live oak logs. I showed up at Mr. Walker’s house a little before nine, my t-shirt soaked.

Mr. Walker led me to his Rib Corral, a custom-designed grill that could handle four slabs. He took a seat.

We started with fire. “Put the big pieces on first,” Mr. Walker instructed me. Ignoring my instincts, I set the two thickest logs (the only two unsplit) on the andirons, then quartered pieces on top. I doused the wood with a pint of lighter fluid.

The Rib Corral blazed.

Fire - Rib Slinger
Mordecai Walker’s Rib Corral

Mr. Walker disappeared for the local July 4th parade, easing into a red Mercedes convertible to serve as grand marshal.

My fire sputtered. After the lighter fluid burned off, I was left with a scorched hulk. I squirted fuel like a teenage pyromaniac, but still, the unsplit logs would not catch.

I fretted then regrouped. I can build a fire, I reminded myself. I’m an Eagle Scout; okay, my mom made me finish — but still, I knew not to start with the biggest logs. So I grabbed my axe, split the quartered oak into toothpicks, and built a tidy log cabin over the smoldering mess.

An hour later, the Rib Corral was cooking.

Family, friends and neighbors gathered after the parade to celebrate Mr. Walker with orange juice and homemade strawberry shortcake. I changed my shirt, grabbed some cake, and returned to my station.

My unsplit liveoak logs now a bed of hot coals, I readied the meat. I set three slabs inside Mr. Walker’s patented Rib Slingers — long u-shaped bars, held fast with an oval clasp.

The pork sizzled and seared. I drank a Yuengling. Then two cans of lime LeCroix. I read some Juan Felipe Herrera. I flipped the Rib Slingers and rotated the three slabs over a hot spot on the grill. I sweat a lot.

Around one o’clock Mr. Walker took a seat by the Rib Corral. His son Andrew (who would not abide the Save-a-Lot sauce) doctored up a mustard, olive oil and cumin baste. We ladled on Andrew’s homemade sauce with a wooden spoon, moistening the char. The ribs were done. “Pretty good,” Andrew declared; “the average person won’t know the difference.”

But Mr. Walker made us wait. At his instruction, I stacked the Rib Slingers on one side, tented the slabs in tin foil, and let the dying coals season.

Finally, six hours after my first swing of the axe, we ate.

Sweet and savory pig meat, flesh pealing off the bone. Sides of Bush beans from the can and Save-a-Lot slaw.

I was too tired for the requisite social media pic.

After helping Andrew move back the patio furniture, I went home. It was three in the afternoon. I started splitting wood at eight that morning. Two hours building a bed of coals. Two hours grilling. Then clean up.

The secret to bbq is not the butcher or the sauce, the dry rub or marinade. According to Mr. Walker, the secret is patience and time. Or so he says.

The secret is also finding someone else to do the work.

After the party, I collapsed in bed, reeking of smoke.

tom with bike

Contributor Bio: Thomas Hallock is a Professor of English at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg, where he is raising a teenage son with his partner Julie Armstrong (@civilrights_lit). Tom is currently at work on a collection of essays called A Road Course in American Literature, about why he loves teaching the U.S. survey to 1860. You can find Tom on Twitter here. All media included in this post comes courtesy of Tom.